News: USACE Galveston District hosts PVAMU’s STEM Summer Program students
Story by Sandra Arnold
GALVESTON, Texas – Students from the Prairie View A&M University’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Summer Program visited the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District today to speak with district subject matter experts in the engineering, biology and regulatory fields, learn more about different avenues of pursuing STEM-related career fields and about the opportunities that exist for recent graduates.
The district signed a partnership agreement with PVAMU last year, recommitting the two organizations to work together to enhance opportunities for minority students throughout the Corps and according to Col. Christopher Sallese, USACE Galveston District commander, this partnership remains instrumental in assisting the district with recruiting a workforce comprised of a diverse pool of high-performing individuals.
“It is terrific to see these young students being encouraged at an early age to pursue STEM careers,” said Sallese. “We are always looking for the next generation of professionals who will bring new and innovative ideas to the Corps and know that in order to accomplish this, we need to begin early on and continue to be a presence throughout high school.”
According to the Bayer Facts of Science Education XIV Survey, the top causes and contributors to underrepresentation populations in STEM careers include the lack of quality science and math education programs in poorer school districts (75 percent); stereotypes that exist that say STEM isn’t for girls or minorities (66 percent); financial issues related to the cost of education (53 percent) and the fact that the STEM industries don’t communicate the message to women and minorities that they are wanted and needed in these fields (51 percent).
The PVAMU STEM Summer Program is part of the Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science Program (a component of the Institute for Pre-College Enrichment), which this year hosted students from Texas, California and Arkansas. The two-week residential summer program helps prepare talented high school students for the new school year and assist them in preparation to pursue a college education in an area that interests them most.
“Participants in the MITES Program are exposed several different areas of engineering to present them with vast opportunities associated with the fields,” Program Manager Dr. CherRhonda Smith-Hollins, PVAMU. “While it is great to provide them with information in the classroom, it is certainly more beneficial for the students to see what they have learned in action. The need for professionals trained in STEM fields is steadily rising and we must look at various ways to reach students early in an effort to train a highly qualified workforce.”
With gaps in STEM education often beginning before students attend college and continuing to increase as students graduate and pursue higher education, Sallese notes that engagements such as this one may help spark an interest in STEM subjects, help counter stereotypes and increase the participation of underrepresented groups in STEM courses.
"This program has opened up a variety of opportunities for me to explore engineering fields that I didn't know existed and has helped me to learn more about the role engineers play in our communities," said Timber Creek High School Student Camden Ross, a budding chemical or computer science engineer enrolled in the two-week program. "Living in the dorms at PVAMU during this program has also exposed me to the college life experience so I'll know what to expect."
During this daylong visit, the students met with district staff employed in the STEM fields, interacted with Department of the Army interns and toured one of the district’s 40 survey boats used to collect essential hydrographic survey data to help staff determine dredging cycles of Texas coastal waterways.
“STEM-related paths are bumpy at best, with potholes that can turn the most promising STEM-geared students and -related professionals awry from pursuing a challenging educational and lifelong adventure in one of the many STEM professions,” said Martin Regner, a guest speaker during the PVAMU Summer Program event and engineer in the USACE Galveston District Contracting Office. “Professionals in the STEM fields have the ability to engage curious minds as mentors and act as sources for solid encouragement on the many journeys these students may face ahead.”
The district’s staff participates in more than 30 STEM-related events throughout the year ranging from judging science fairs to presenting as guest speakers, with the goal of mentoring youth and attracting females and minorities to work in STEM-related fields.
“We hope that one day, some of these students who had the chance to meet with a district engineer, biologist or regulatory specialist, will choose a career path in STEM and be one more person to help break the stereotypes and increase the percentage of women and minorities employed in STEM-related positions,” said Sallese.
The USACE Galveston District staff is committed to working with local schools to help close the performance gap in underrepresented students’ educational achievement in STEM. Approximately 10 percent of the district’s workforce volunteers in events throughout the year to promote STEM awareness and encourage today’s students to pursue STEM careers.
Learn more about the USACE Galveston District’s Corps in the Classroom Program at http://www.swg.usace.army.mil/BusinessWithUs/PublicAffairsOffice/CorpsintheClassroom.aspx. Learn about the partnership with PVAMU http://www.swg.usace.army.mil/About/Partners/PrairieViewAMUniversity.aspx, find us on Facebook, www.facebook.com/GalvestonDistrict or follow us on Twitter, www.twitter.com/USACEgalveston.