Corps grades student projects at STEM expo

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Nashville District
Story by Mark Rankin

Date: 04.11.2014
Posted: 04.16.2014 02:40
News ID: 126154
Corps grades student projects at STEM expo

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A group of technical experts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District attended a science, technology, engineering and mathematics science expo as judges and also staffed an exhibit sponsored by the Middle Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub at the Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin on April 11, 2014.

Michael Zoccola, chief, geotechnical branch; Jimmy Waddle, chief of Engineering and Construction; Vanessa Bateman, a geologist from the geotechnical branch, and Ron Douglas, an IT specialist from the Corps’ ACE-IT Operations, served as judges for the event. Carol Haynes, chief of equal employment office, David Claussen, an equal employment office specialist, and Old Hickory park ranger Noel Smith staffed the exhibit and talked with students about STEM subjects.

The Nashville District set up an exhibit and shared their knowledge about engineering, water management, dam safety, regulatory protection of natural resources, and the role of park rangers who are stewards of the land and water, and who lookout for the safety of visitors at Corps projects.

“We are so glad to have so many schools participate and especially have the Corps a part of this program,” said the director of the Middle Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub, Dr. Vicki Metzgar. The program allows us to assemble and honor student’s projects and showcase their excellent knowledge about STEM subjects.
More than 200 students attended the expo with teams producing and managing 80 projects from counties in middle Tennessee including Metro Nashville public schools, Sumner County, Clarksville-Montgemery County school system, and private schools such as Harpeth Hall. The program was organized by the Middle Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub and it is designed to encourage students to enroll or challenge themselves in STEM fields that involves designing, building, processing and analyzation of STEM questions and problems.

At an awards ceremony at the end of the expo, Lt. Col. John L. Hudson, Nashville District commander, recognized students and faculty from the Jack Anderson Elementary school, and presented a glass trophy and certificate to them for their STEM project on wind energy.

“STEM is very important to the Corps,” said Hudson. “Not only is it important for us in our local community but for the Corps all over the country and it is critical for infrastructure, roads and bridges,” he said.

The STEM expo showcased original projects designed and built by middle and high school students from the STEM Hub partnering school districts.

Lillian Ekem, a student from Martin Luther King High School in Nashville, developed a remote–controlled remote bot with her team from the School of Science and Math at Vanderbilt. The bot car was developed to assist with emergency first responders and collect data in combating house fires.

Zoccola was interested in the process and methods required to build the vehicle and asked her about its applications.

“He [Zoccola] was very interested in what we had learned about our project during the building process,” said Ekem.

The team consisted of students: David Feng, Fea Morgan-Curtis, Lillian Ekem, and Jon Marc Zaccaro.

“These kids have built some great projects and are very smart,” said Zoccola. “I can remember back to when I was in the fifth grade and there is no comparison to what they are doing in school today, these kids are programming and building robots; it’s amazing,” said Zoccola.

According to Metzgar, these rigorous projects help students learn key academic content and practice skills through hands on learning which is necessary for success such as communication, collaboration and critical thinking.

“Tennessee has great STEM assets and these experiences help students learn key academic content and practice 21st Century Skills including communication, collaboration, and critical thinking,” said Metzgar.

She said students in grades 5-12 in schools of STEM hub partners participated in the 2014 STEM Expo. Projects include: one of five categories (STEM Research, Engineering I, Engineering II, Agricultural STEM, and Technology). The sponsoring school/district determines their category schools from STEM Hub partner districts will be eligible to register one entry per category (maximum of five entries per school). Districts will be allowed to enter a maximum of 50 projects.

“We are glad the Corps is available for the kids,” said Theresa Dulaney, a teacher from the Bellevue Middle school.“This has been a great event for our kids and I think the more we expose them to different career fields the better off it is for them to learn in the long run because it helps them start thinking about it at an earlier age and direct their path that way.”

The Nashville District supports STEM programs and is an official partner of the Stratford STEM Magnet High School. For more information, go to the district’s STEM Support Page. For more news and information, follow the district on Facebook at