Army Corps of Engineers judges local science fair
By Julie Shoemaker
Middle East District
WINCHESTER, Va. - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provided professionals to help judge the local Feb. 6 Frederick County Science Fair.
The Frederick County Science Fair reaches hundreds of students and involves all county middle and high schools. This year's event, held at the Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown, drew about 300 students, sixth to 12th grade, and showcased 271 projects. For judging purposes, the projects were divided into middle and high school.
The Middle East District's volunteer judges were Bill Ryals from Programs and Project Management Division, Mo Mostaghim and Wil Wright from Engineering Division, and Erica Fox and Shernell Rawles from Contracting Division. David Clarke, from the Transatlantic Division, also volunteered.
The Army Corps of Engineers recognizes the critical role that Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education plays in enabling the U.S. to remain the economic and technological leaders of the global marketplace and to enabling the Department of Defense to secure our nation. Accordingly, USACE is committed to teaming with others to strengthen STEM-related programs that inspire current and future generations of young people to pursue careers in STEM fields.
Judges were asked to rate the students' projects, their oral presentations and knowledge of the subject, and were encouraged to share instructions or offer advice for the future.
Bill Ryals, project management branch chief and veteran science fair judge, said that the event was great once again.
"The quality of teachers in our country and students is incredibly high. We are very lucky to live here. These kids really inspire me," he said.
One student Ryals was particularly impressed with was Admiral Richard E. Byrd Middle Schools student Alex Giffin. His project, including a leaf blower and simulator box that concludes that a flat roof is best to survive hurricane winds, won for his category.
"I enjoy being around all of these youngsters and seeing their efforts in the fair," said Wright, senior electrical engineer. "There are always a few who are very impressive and you know they are going places. For the few hours we spend, it is a lot of fun. I always had a hard time as a student at science fairs so all of the participants deserve kudos for presenting their exhibits. They were all interesting."
Some of the judges were impressed with the projects they saw and amazed at the ages of the students involved.
"The young people of today are definitely talented," said Shernell Rawles, Contracting Division staff assistant. "Some of the projects were just outstanding. You could tell those students who went the extra mile. There were several students with great projects but the two that stood out the most for me ended up winning their categories - one of them also won best overall."
She shared her excitement in seeing the results of all the creative minds.
"The middle school students had just as much creativity as the high school students proving that our greatest natural resources are the minds of our children."
The USACE organization in Winchester has provided judges for local science fairs for more than 15 years.
"I have to say that I always enjoy giving back a little to the community, and I graduated from James Wood High School myself, so I'm also giving back to my alma mater," said Clarke, lead electrical engineer and value engineering program manager for the division. "Ironically, I never entered the Science Fair while I was a student. I do enjoy meeting and talking to the kids. I'm always reassured that, no matter what negative press I read, today's kids are no worse than when I was in school. In fact, some seem way smarter than I ever was."
"It is fascinating to see what they can do," Ryals said. "Middle school is the time we need to start talking to these kids, to build their interest in engineering," he said.
The Middle East District is responsible for engineering, construction, and related services in the Middle East, Central Asia, and other areas as required. Its work includes designing and constructing facilities for use by U.S. forces, performing engineering activities for other U.S. government and foreign agencies, and providing operations and maintenance services for various customers. In addition, the district provides project management, engineering, contracting and support services to the two USACE districts in Afghanistan.