By Dr. Michael D. Izard-Carroll
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers participated in National Engineer’s Week from February 19 – 25. The National Society of Professional Engineers founded the week in 1951 and the annual celebration has expanded tremendously since then. The Buffalo District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held a number of events which involved learning opportunities for both staff and the local community.
The Buffalo District launched the Engineers Week festivities by hosting a shadow day which involved students from four local area high schools. Shadow day was held a few days before the start of Engineer’s Week, on February 16, because students were on spring break during the main week’s activities. To secure participants, event coordinators asked school leaders to identify students who had potential interest in pursuing a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related career. Major Jared Runge, Deputy Commander of the Buffalo District, and Tom Switala, Chief of the Technical Services Division, greeted the 18 students in the morning, and they later disbursed to observe a variety of District technical functions throughout the day. Activities included a hands-on demonstration of environmental sampling equipment, a biological sciences exercise, as well as cycling through several design discipline demonstrations, including computer-aided design (CAD), geotechnical engineering, and coastal engineering.
“Shadow day is something we look forward to every year and it’s great to see young people showing interest in STEM related career fields,” said Todd Kufel, Buffalo District Design Branch Chief. “We are fortunate to have a diverse team of engineers and scientists, encompassing a broad range of technical disciplines, so the students are exposed to a variety of possible career tracks.”
While the shadow day event involved high school students, several Buffalo District employees also participated in the Buffalo Museum of Science’s National Engineer’s Week activities, which involved hundreds of kids of all ages. Tuesday’s interactive demonstrations featured the Buffalo District Dive Team and environmental engineering. Thursday was “National Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” at the museum and volunteers Kathleen Buckler and Shaina Souder managed a very popular table that focused on biological sciences and the environment.
“This event has gotten bigger since last year,” said Kathleen Buckler, “the fact that the event is becoming more popular is a sign that there is a growing interest in what engineers do.”
“Inspiring girls to consider pursuing a career in science is something we feel strongly about,” said Shaina Souder, “and seeing the kids so interested in what we had to talk about was very rewarding.”
Kids were not the only ones who had a chance to learn something new during Engineer’s Week. The Buffalo District arranged two in-house learning opportunities, for which credentialed employees could use toward their “professional development hours” (PDHs). Certifications such as the Professional Engineer (PE) license require continuous learning and PDHs to maintain professional competency. Jon Kolber, P.E. (a retired Buffalo District Geotechnical Engineer), presented on “Extreme Wind,” and Bill Kowalewski, P.E., Chief of the Special Projects Branch, presented on “Engineer Support to HQ European Command Theatre.”
Two staff members were featured speakers to audiences outside the District confines; Frank O’Connor, P.E. presented to the Erie-Niagara Chapter of the New York State Society of Professional Engineers group on the topic of beneficial use of dredged materials; Michael Voorhees lectured to a watershed pollution class at Buffalo State College on the topic of sediment transport modeling.
In addition to the planned events aimed to pique interest in engineering, the Buffalo District’s Engineer’s Week planning team also made time for a few fun social events including a ski day at Holimont, and a basketball game and pizza party at the University of Buffalo.
“Planning the events and coordinating everything that goes into Engineer’s Week takes about two months,” said Michelle Barker, the District’s STEM Coordinator. “In an effort to continuously improve, we’ve already performed an after action review on the 2017 activities to build on and ensure future success for next year.”
The extensive preparation and coordination for the Buffalo District’s events involved approximately thirty employees who helped out in various capacities. The team relies on feedback from students, school faculty, employees, and the community. Next year, the planning committee is considering involving additional high schools for Shadow Day. While National Engineer’s week has come to an end, the prospects for future engineers and scientists are just getting started.