News: STEM discussion presents opportunities for collaboration
Story by David Salazar
TORRANCE, Calif. – Leaders from the Corps of Engineers’ Los Angeles District and the Los Angeles Recruiting Battalion met with community officials to bolster the interest of local youth in careers in science, technology, engineering, and math — also known as STEM.
The meeting, which was held April 26 at the Toyota Museum, was hosted by the recruiting battalion to foster collaboration amid the multitude of existing STEM outreach initiatives in the area. The meeting was attended by dozens of educators, community leaders, and other Army advocates as part of a larger program meant to assist local Army recruiting programs.
The agenda for this particular meeting concentrated mainly on how schools, the recruiting battalion, and the district, could join forces to meet the nation’s growing need for scientists and engineers in the coming years.
Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, addressed the need in a video clip played as part of the panel discussion.
“The challenge is very clear: we need approximately 1 million more STEM graduates from college by the year 2020. That’s an increase of 35 percent in STEM graduates that we’re getting today,” Bostick said.
“Out of 100 ninth graders that go to college across the country, only about six will study STEM [programs]. So if we’re going to reach that one million additional STEM graduates by 2020 requirement, we really need programs across the country that inspire — that ignite a passion — in our youth that this is something they can do —that they must do — in order for this country to enjoy the peace and the prosperity that we’ve enjoyed for so many years.”
Bostick, who previously served as commanding general of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command from 2005 to 2009, was the catalyst for kicking off the burgeoning partnership.
“Lieutenant Gen. Bostick understands what’s out there and he knew that there were ways of bringing all of these people together,” said Army Col. Mark Toy, commander of the Corps of Engineers’ Los Angeles District. “So he actually gave me an order when he visited the district on Jan. 18, he said ‘I want you to attend the next [Grassroots Advisory Board] meeting.’ He recommended that the LA District partner with the LA Recruiting Battalion and the board because he knows that this is a great organization and this is something that he is very passionate about.”
A recurring theme of the discussion brought about another good reason for organizations to work together: fiscal uncertainty. As funding dries up for many programs, it only makes sense to pool resources to meet similar goals. Such teamwork would ultimately allow the Army to pool its resources in order to consistently reach out to area schools.
Visiting schools on a regular basis and with a consistent message will help bridge the gaps often left by larger initiatives and may help make Army recruiters more accessible to teenagers curious about military service.
“Here’s my vision: There are some unbelievable national-level programs out there that support what we want to do, but the honest truth is those national-level programs are tough to bring to bear consistently in the same area,” said Army Lt. Col. Scott Peterson, the commander of the Los Angeles Recruiting Battalion. “The national stuff — as awesome as it is — can’t touch everybody with the level of consistency that is demanded in the recruiting business. Being in the school routinely — where they get to know educators and students routinely and consistently — is huge.”
Toy presented a number of initiatives the district already undertakes in the local area, including an outreach program focused on the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, which hosts activities in 13 elementary schools, three middle schools, and four high schools. The district also supports numerous activities in other areas, including school field trips to local dams, speaking at school career days, and providing judges for science fair competitions.
Toy’s presentation included a number of videos of past outreach events hosted by the district that capture the reactions of students and educators who participated.
Leo Megallon, a STEM teacher at Roosevelt High School, who attended a field trip with his students hosted by the district at Prado Dam, gave credence to STEM outreach efforts in a video played during Toy’s presentation.
“I have a degree in physics and I was given a few opportunities like these when I was in high school, so I understand the benefits of a program like this. It really opened my eyes to the opportunities that are available out there.”
The next steps for the partnership between the two LA-based units include standing up a speaker’s bureau of notable STEM leaders to speak at high schools and to create a STEM committee to help synchronize efforts and engender support from schools. The recruiting battalion will begin work on its 2013-2014 school engagement plan, which Peterson hopes will include a multitude of STEM engagements for high schools in the battalion’s area.