News: District volunteers plant STEM seeds
Story by Kent Cummins
BRYANT, Ark. - Several employees with the Army Corps of Engineers Little Rock District volunteered their weekend time and expertise to plant seeds.
These weren’t run of the mill seeds.
In November, Mike Biggs, Daniel Smith, Mark Dixson, and Keith Cook planted seeds of knowledge in the minds of 28 local Cub Scouts with hope of harvesting an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the future.
The volunteers participated in a scout STEM event at the First United Methodist Church of Bryant, Ark., which helped the scouts earn merit badges.
The district’s Real Estate Division Chief Don Balch, who is also a local Cub Scout Master, organized the event. He reached out to his district teammates and his efforts ensured the Scouts learned about a variety of subjects including geology, forestry, environmental science, electrical and civil engineering, as well as communication skills.
Biggs, chief of the Reservoir Control Section, talked to the Scouts about civil engineering. He presented a special bridge kit demonstration to afford them an awareness and appreciation about the importance of structural integrity and failure, as well as other aspects of engineering.
“As a Boy Scout growing up, I had a great Scouting experience partially because the leaders of my troop were Georgia Pacific engineers and foresters who shared their knowledge and experience with our troop,” said Biggs. “My Scouting experience helped me prepare for college and influenced my decision to become an engineer. My participation in the STEM program is my way of paying those positive influences forward.”
The geologist of the group, Smith, who was also a Scout in his younger days, taught the Cub Scouts about the Earth’s surface and subsurface. He brought along numerous samples of local and regional rocks for hands-on instruction.
“It felt good to have the opportunity to give back to the Scouts and teach them about geology,” said Smith, who is also the district’s Dam Safety Program manager. “I think it is very important for children to learn about geology and other sciences.”
Smith said the STEM-related activities allow children the chance to learn how geology and science impact their daily lives.
“They were able to interact with a professional geologist and ask questions, which may be their only opportunity to do so,” he added. “They gained a deeper appreciation for science as a whole.”
Dixson, a supervisory electrical engineer, explained his specialty to the Scouts and let them experiment with producing an electrical circuit with a battery.
“I have worked with the Boy and Cub Scouts for more than 20 years,” said Dixson. “I believe I get more enjoyment out of teaching them, than what the scouts get by learning about electrical engineering.”
Dixon’s volunteerism brought back memories about who inspired him to become an electrical engineer…his high school physics teacher.
“I love being able to help these young men learn about engineering and hope I can inspire them in some way to study engineering and science,” he said. “It is very important that we train our next generation to fill the numerous engineering jobs that will be vacant with the retirement of the baby boomers. We need scientists and engineers to maintain our existing infrastructure and to develop new technologies that will be more energy efficient and earth friendly.”
As the district’s forester, Cook passed along his knowledge about natural resources, environmental science and conservation to the Scouts. He described to the eager learners “how everything in the ecosystem tends to show amazing design and purpose.”
“I enjoy passing on a few things to the next generation that are meaningful to me, and most kids do enjoy learning, as long as you keep it interesting, give them some hands-on opportunities,” said Cook.
The forester believes it is important for children to understand the big picture when it comes to natural resource management.
“If they can see how all the parts best work together as a unified whole, they start to sense a need to take more ownership and to manage from a wise-stewardship perspective,” he said. “For instance, showing them how an out-of-control wildfire can cause damage to both us and the forest, but how prescribed burning and timber thinning benefit wildlife habitat and forest health at the same time, while producing tangible products for human use.”
“Our country used to pursue these things (STEM) much more zealously than it does today, and was consequently a greater leader in new discovery and innovation,” said Cook. “I’d like to hope the STEM program can help our kids catch the wonder of the world we’ve been given, and help them point us toward that greater leadership role again.”
The seeds of knowledge planted in the young Scouts by these district volunteers may help the Corps and country in the future by taking root and growing into STEM careers.