Wednesday, March 7, 2012

ECBC Engineers Show and Tell Careers at Local Schools to Spread STEM Awareness

Across the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC), several employees have devoted time and creative efforts to classroom visits and presentations to inspire and encourage future generations to give careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) a chance, using interactive and exciting hands-on activities.

“Teaching students more about what we do and how a STEM education can be applied in a practical way is personally rewarding,” said Debbie Brooks-Harris, a packaging specialist in Engineering’s Packaging Branch.

David Vincitore, also a packaging specialist agrees. “These activities are rewarding because we are helping shape the future of our profession,” Vincitore said. “We have to keep in mind that someday these students could be our replacements, so we want to expose them to all of the different possibilities early on. It will let them see, first-hand, how packaging, or engineering in general, is a viable career option.”

Packaging Branch conducts an egg drop activity for their STEM presentations where students use household products to design, build and test phases of a package. Students must develop a package that prevents a raw egg from damaging during a five-foot drop test and an incline shock test.
“We provide them with a mix of materials from Christmas wrapping paper to toilet paper rolls. Some materials work and some do not. We want to get their minds working and help them realize that there are many ways to get one job done,” said packaging specialist Karyn Rafferty.
Recently, Cindy Learn, of Joint Service Respirator Sustainment and Test Technology; David Love, Protective Equipment Test Branch and Mary McNally Chief of the Protective Equipment Test Branch took part in Engineering is Elementary (EiE) ® at Joppatowne Elementary School. The EiE project fosters engineering and technological literacy among children. At Joppatowne, the engineers used the storyline from the book “Yi Min’s Great Wall” to show students the design and build process. In the book, a fictional bunny makes several attempts to invade a garden. For the exercise, students had to build and design a protection wall or fence to keep the fictional bunny from invading their own garden.
In addition to traveling to schools, ECBC employees have also opened up their workspace to allow students to explore their STEM options, and experience the work life of an engineer first hand. This past December the National Defense Education Program (NDEP) sponsored an event where 24 Joppatowne High School’s pre-engineering students had the opportunity to tour and experience real-world research and development processes conducted at ECBC.

Students had the opportunity to tour multiple facilities and learned the value of an interdisciplinary team approach in delivering cutting-edge solutions that protect the Warfighter and the United States. The students were also exposed to real-world engineering techniques like rapid prototyping, 3D laser scanning, robotics detection equipment, and even got a ‘sneak peak’ of the Army’s STEM Asset Vehicle -- a hands-on mobile showcase that ECBC’s Advanced Design Manufacturing Division helped design and develop to attract and engage aspiring young scientists and engineers.
Students also explored ECBC’s Environmental and Field Testing facilities where Electronics Technician Mark Hull explained and demonstrated the techniques his team applies to simulate the transportation and storage of mechanical components under various environmental conditions.

Brooks-Harris said she recalls the look on the students faces as they explored the Environmental and Field Testing machines face-to-face. “They were all so fascinated by the technology at the Center and asked questions. They were really engaged in the demonstrations. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine how certain things look while sitting in a classroom, so I think having the students come in and see the equipment really helped put the career field in perspective,” Brooks-Harris said.
ECBC personnel don’t just share their knowledge with students, but also with teachers. In August 2011, several ECBC employees traveled to local schools to educate teachers on emerging technologies such as food packaging, polymers and nanotechnology during a three-day professional development initiative, which was sponsored by the NDEP and led by National Center for the Advancement of STEM Education (nCASE).
“The students are really smart, so we love working with them. It’s exciting,” Vincitore said.
Brooks-Harris still has one egg-drop mechanism that a student made back in September. The two taped Syrofoam cups equipped with an egg crate and material for padding sit on her desk as a reminder of the innovative solutions that students come up with during their presentation.
“I remember I helped him with small things while designing this package because he had a handicap in his hand,” Brooks-Harris said. “But after he finished and his egg passed the drop test he told me ‘I absolutely want to be an engineer.’ It’s moments like that, that make us grateful to be part of activities like this.”

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