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Posted 7/26/2013

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By Elizabeth Lockyear
Albuquerque District

People use acronyms and abbreviations such as NASA or FBI because they are less clumsy and easier to write and remember than the complete expression they represent. One of the newest acronyms gaining mainstream usage is STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

STEM attracts national attention from business, educational and political leaders. Experts say that these fields are driving economic growth in the U.S. and the fastest-growing occupations of the future will require STEM knowledge. However, the nation is behind in preparing students for this future.

Only six of 100 current U.S. ninth-graders will earn a degree in a STEM field such as math, engineering or chemistry. In 2008, only four of every 100 U.S. college graduates was an engineer. And while there are expected to be 2.8 million STEM job openings in the U.S. by 2020, the nation needs to increase the number of college graduates in STEM fields by about 1 million more to meet the demand.

STEM has a special place in the Corps of Engineers. Employees in STEM fields account for close to half of the Corps’ employees. Six of the Corps’ nine mission-critical occupations are STEM-related.

As an Army leader in STEM education and outreach, and in attracting a highly competent STEM workforce, the Corps recognizes the critical role that STEM education plays in enabling the United States to remain an economic and technological leader, and in supporting the Defense Department and Army in the security of our Nation. 

“We are 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,” said Chief of Engineers Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick.

In March, the Albuquerque District entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the University of New Mexico to promote and enhance opportunities in STEM education and career paths. 

“We believe that nothing is more important than encouraging a new generation of students to become engineers and scientists,” said South Pacific Division Deputy Commander Col. Andrew Nelson at the signing ceremony.

First STEM Internship
This summer the District collaborated with UNM to launch the District’s first eight-week STEM internship. According to John Moreno, chief, Engineering and Construction Division, UNM asked the District to get involved and offer an internship. 

This “is certainly in line with what would be expected to be included as mutual goals within the MOU,” Moreno said, although the internship is “separate from the STEM MOU with UNM as far as we know.” 

Civil engineering student Corey Bowen started the internship May 28 and spent her time helping on several on-going design projects. She plans to graduate in two years. When asked why she chose to study civil engineering, she said that in addition to enjoying math and science, “an art major wouldn’t pay the bills.” 

Since Bowen had prior CAD (computer-aided design) experience, she’s “been a great help,” said Corina Chavez, a civil engineer with the District. Bowen also visited the District’s offices at Cannon and Kirtland Air Force bases. She said that the internship has helped her understand the office and CAD settings of the job. 

Earlier this year, District Commander Lt. Col. Gant and Cheryl Buckel, strategic planner with the District, coordinated with UNM on the District’s involvement. The Engineering and Construction Division (E&C) volunteered a place for one of the STEP scholarship students. 

Moreno and Buckel represented the District at some of the match-making opportunities with potential STEP applicants and received resumes. Funding for the internship was through a UNM School of Engineering STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program) scholarship. 

Bowen said she found out about the District’s internship through her participation in the Mentor Program at UNM. This relatively new, one-year program is part of the university’s STEM program. Sophomore and junior students enrolled in a STEM-major and that meet the GPA requirement get invited to participate. The university assigns a professor who mentors four to five students over the course of the year. The internship makes up a key part of the program which Bowen pointed out provides the incentive to attend all the meetings with the mentor. Failing to meet disqualifies the student from participating in an internship, she said.

The program design exposes students to STEM career fields, helps them network and find internships. 

Bowen met Moreno at one of the intern match-making opportunities at UNM. “I really wanted to work here,” Bowen said, and she “tracked them down” to apply. 

After receiving intern applications, Glenn Roybal, chief of the District’s Technical Support Branch, took the lead to make a selection and coordinate the placement within E&C. Chavez assisted in the selection process resulting in the selection of Bowen. 

Chavez also mentored Bowen during her internship because of her experiences in working with the District. Chavez started with the Corps in 2001 as part of what was then-called the “stay-in-school” program in 2001. After she graduated university, she served as a Department of the Army intern in the District and now works in the General Engineering Section on military designs site development and civil works projects like the San Acacia levees.

Future Possibilities
Internship opportunities next summer through UNM depend upon funding.

“If UNM offers their engineering students STEP scholarship next summer, Albuquerque District would definitely be interested in picking one up,” said Roybal. 

Since the program requires no IMD (Individual Manning Document), the District could pick up more than one next summer, Roybal said. He added, that an internship “could be in any STEM-related field that could provide a mentor and oversight to the student during their internship.”

Interested UNM students need to work with the School of Engineering. Those interested in working as an intern (formerly known as SCEPs) for the Corps of Engineers, either here in Albuquerque or in another district, should go to USAJobs (https://www.usajobs.gov/) to see existing open positions and to apply.

albuquerque district education engineering intern internship STEM university of new mexico