MOBILE, Ala. – In an effort to promote the value of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) during National Engineers Week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District, visited the University of South Alabama Children’s and Women’s Hospital here, Feb. 21.
While at the hospital, engineers from the district taught the children how engineers contribute to society, hosted an interactive bridge-building contest, and handed out Mardi Gras-themed items.
District Deputy Commander Lt. Col. Landon Raby, who developed the concept for the visit, explained how he came up with the idea and why he believes it is critical to spend time with the children.
“When I first met Kim, (the Mapp Child and Family Life Program coordinator at the hospital), I mentioned that I worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” said Raby. “She explained how the education program at the hospital runs and asked if we would like to visit and spend some time with the kids.”
“As part of our community outreach during National Engineers Week, we are always looking for potential venues to educate the public about our mission and the importance of STEM. I thought this would be a great opportunity to open their eyes to the career opportunities available in engineering.”
In addition to teaching the kids about STEM, the visit also served to keep their minds off of their ongoing medical treatment.
“It’s really important for them to have a normal life and their day to be as normal as possible despite being in the hospital,” said Anne Vella, an elementary teacher at the hospital. “They get bored just doing worksheets and reading from their text books so something like this is just really special. Our goal is to make learning fun. So something like this helps us reach that goal.”
Kristin Beardon, a special education teacher at the hospital, added that visits by community groups inspire the children and provide a form of natural healing that medical treatment simply can’t provide.
“As much as we love our jobs and…we think we’re really good at it, we are still not able to bring to them all of the things that they would experience if they were at their other schools,” said Beardon. “Having guests come in helps to inspire them to go on with their day (and) handle whatever procedure they have to go through. When they comply with the medical treatment and they are feeling good about themselves (it) promotes healing. So anything we can do to make their day more enjoyable, and at the same time help them learn, it helps them get back to their regular life sooner.”
At the end of the day, Raby was pretty happy with the initial visit and hopes it will become an annual staple for the district.
“The event went extremely well and the children seemed to really enjoy the interaction,” said Raby. “My hope is that we were able to take their minds off of their medical issues, if only for an hour, and to help them understand the importance of STEM and that learning can be fun.”
National Engineers Week, which runs from Feb. 21-27, was founded in 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers. The dates are chosen each year to coincide with the birthday of President George Washington, America's first engineer.