Hundreds of STEM students go behind the scenes at Melvin Price Locks and Dam
By Romanda Walker
St. Louis District
ALTON, Ill. — More than 500 high school students and chaperones interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math flocked to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's Melvin Price Locks and Dam Feb. 25, for the Saturday Scholars event at the National Great Rivers Museum in Alton, IL.
Employees from the St. Louis District engaged students from 18 high schools in Southwestern Illinois with the Saturday Scholars Program, an enrichment program aimed at students who score in the top percentage area of their class in the Madison County School District.
"STEM programs like the Saturday Scholars program are very important in helping to build future scientists and engineers for our nation, and allows the Corps of Engineers to connect with the communities we serve," said Angie Smith, National Great Rivers Museum director and Interpretive Services and Outreach Programs team leader.
A wide array of St. Louis District employees including engineers, lock and dam operators, park rangers, public affairs specialists and archeologists were able to showcase the Corps of Engineers' science and engineering feats.
Students rotated to six different stations during their tour of the lock and dam and learned about river engineering and also the work that goes on inside the auxiliary chamber overlook, tainter gate operations area, the Crow's Nest and the lift gate operations.
"Being able to get these students behind-the-scenes here at Mel Price is a great way to show just how the Corps keeps our big river systems navigable while helping improve the natural and recreational environment for future generations," Smith said.
Ashely Cox, river engineer with the St. Louis District, talked with the STEM students about the Corps of Engineers use of Hydraulic Sediment Response modeling, or micro modeling, to replicate the mechanics of an actual river or stream on an area the size of a normal table top.
"HSR modeling provides river engineers the ability to address a variety of problems on inland waterways in the United States such as shoaling, scour, sediment issues, dangerous bends and restricted channel widths," she said.
"Anyone want to take a guess at how many barges generally lock through the Melvin Price Locks and Dam during a typical day?" Brandon Beckemeyer, park ranger with the St. Louis District asked the students from the top of the Lock and Dam.
Beckemeyer explained an average of 25 to 30 barges lock through Melvin Price Locks and Dam daily. Traffic typically slows during the winter months to around 15 to 20. Previously, boats locking through the 600 ft. lock chamber at Lock and Dam No. 26, Melvin Price's predecessor, often had an average wait time of 3 to 10 days. The long wait time was due to 15-barge tows having to break into two sections for locking, a process called a double-cut lockage. Locking through Melvin Price's new 1200 ft. main chamber, which opened in 1989, allows for a 15-barge tow to pass through in one piece in approximately 20 to 30 minutes.
"The worst wait I've seen was five hours and that's because we had six boats trying to lock through at the same time," Beckemeyer said.
Roy Baker, Melvin Price Locks and Dam operator, felt that the day was an overall success.
"I was impressed with the students' interests and professionalism that they displayed during the tour," Baker said. "Even if I was able to reach just one student, then I feel we were successful."