JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - “It's the future,” said
Steve Grabowski, an Anchorage School District teacher, about the
importance of exposing science, technology, engineering and
mathematics education to elementary students.
Members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Alaska District
visited three of Grabowski's fifth- and sixth-grade classes between
Nov.18 and 22, 2013 at Mount Spurr, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor
elementary schools on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Maj. Mark DeRocchi, deputy commander of the Alaska District, and a
few other Corps employees visited with students of Mount Spurr, Ursa
Major and Ursa Minor Elementary schools during the week of
Nov.18-22, 2013 to encourage their studies in science, technology,
engineering and mathematics, also known as STEM. Students learned
about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the roles of its different
divisions and the Corps' contribution to their community. Using
toothpicks and marshmallows, the children got to build their own
bridge and test its strength using toy cars with a time limit of 10
minutes. (U.S. Army courtesy photo)
The Corps recognizes that education
in the hard sciences plays a critical role in enabling the
United States to remain an economic and technological leader
in the global marketplace.
“The Corps believes that
it can be a leader in helping to solve our nation's science,
technology, engineering and math challenges to ensure we
have a pipeline of talent in the future,” said Col.
Christopher Lestochi, commander of the Alaska District.
The events were led by hard-hat wearing district
representatives Maj. Mark DeRocchi, deputy
commander; Randy Bowker, acting chief of the Programs and
Project Management Division; Mike Gaulke, civil engineer in
the Design Branch, and Lisa Geist, environmental scientist
in the Environmental Engineering Branch.
learned about the Corps, its missions and capabilities, and
contributions to the community. The children were challenged
to build their own bridges using marshmallows and toothpicks
within 10 minutes. Their structures were tested by
supporting toy cars that spanned across two planks of wood.
A suspenseful scene unfolded as the young engineers
anxiously watched some bridges succeed and others fail, but
a learning opportunity was shared nonetheless.
really fun seeing them playing and actually building
something,” Geist said. “There are questions we don't even
think to ask as adults that a [student] will ask.”
Geist helps clean up formerly used defense sites in Alaska
that have potential for surrounding contaminants. Students
reached the conclusion that it is important to clean up
these sites because of the possible affects that pollutants
have on wildlife and people living nearby.
curiosity that is really cool to see,” she said. “It's a
great opportunity to share with them what we do and that
there is more to mom and dad sitting at a desk.”
students learned about engineering concepts such as tension
and compression, and how they relate to the building
materials used for structures. Students informed DeRocchi
what these concepts meant after being quizzed. Compression
is when the material is being pushed together, said one
student. Tension is when the material is pulled apart, said
“The best way to learn about bridges is to
just do it!” DeRocchi exclaimed to the students.
After receiving a tutorial, students were sent home with
resources on how to download the U.S. Military Academy's
West Point Bridge Designer software onto their family
computers. The program allows users to design and test a
bridge while simulating the challenges of material cost and
landscape. The free software can be accessed at
Getting elementary students excited about the
possibilities of science, technology, engineering and
mathematics is proving to be another way the Alaska District
is “Building and Preserving Alaska's Future.”
By U.S. Army John Budnik
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