STUTTGART, Germany -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commanding general made a pitch to spur more interest in science, technology, engineering and math among American students during a visit May 14 to Patch High School.
Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, USACE commanding general, talked about the agency's expanded support to the Department of Defense Education Activity in preparing military children for college and the workforce. He also highlighted the need to reverse a national decline in engineer graduates and those entering STEM jobs, professions and research fields.
The meeting with Patch students and faculty came ahead of a new accord between the two organizations. On Monday, the general signed a USACE partnership agreement with DODEA, paving the way to more collaborative educational and professional opportunities tied to STEM careers. The program takes effect in the 2013-14 school year.
"I've encouraged the entire Corps of Engineers that we should be a leader in STEM," he said. "This is the organization that built the Washington Monument, finished the Panama Canal … and did a lot of things on the waterways of the United States of America. We respond to disasters like Superstorm Sandy, and we did the construction after Katrina. These are all engineering feats that are useful for Americans to understand.
"It's important that we increase the number of engineers. Those who might have a proclivity and interest in studying engineering should pursue that, because the country needs them."
Recent statistics show just how significant the deficit has become.
In 2008, just four of every 100 American college graduates earned a STEM-related degree, which is among the lowest percentages in the world. Only 14 countries -- including Cuba, Cambodia and Bangladesh -- produce fewer engineers. By comparison, China boasts 31 STEM graduates out of every 100, while the figure sits at 10 in Russia.
Based on population growth and retirement rates, the U.S. anticipates 2.8 million STEM job openings by 2020. To keep pace, the nation must generate about 1 million more college graduates over the current trend in STEM areas of study.
"STEM is a priority for DOD," Bostick said. "This is important for our nation. It's also important internationally. … But the United States, in particular, is having a challenge."
Military and civilian communities worldwide have benefited from Army STEM innovations, he said.
"Just about everything you touch or use or operate has at its very beginning some involvement with our science, technology, engineering and math background and research," he said. "Some STEM individual has been involved in the design, organization and development of the products that we use from day to day.
"In order for us to be the leaders in this in the future, it's going to take the communities to rally around those who wish to study. … Communities can help by encouraging young men and women from every walk of life, every background, who have an interest and ability to study STEM to pursue those dreams."
Bostick, whose father also served in the Army, is a product of Department of Defense Dependents Schools. He attended second grade at Smith Elementary School in Baumholder and later went to high school on Okinawa, Japan.
At Patch, he discussed the importance of STEM with students in an Advanced Placement biology class, where a group of seniors and juniors were dissecting small sharks.
The commander said a strong STEM workforce is crucial to the nation's future as it strives to remain an economic, military and technological leader in the global marketplace. It's vital toward building a sustainable future -- modern-day advances will lead to longer, healthier lives for all Americans, he added.
"It's a demanding area of study, there's no question," he said. "The courses of study in STEM are going to be challenging. It's going to require a lot of discipline, a lot of study, a lot of night study, a lot of weekend study. It'll take away some of your discretionary time.
"I'm not saying you can't have fun if you're studying. But you have to balance all of your activities. That's what students must learn when they go into college. … [In engineering], you have to be willing to study hard and study long."
Under the new agreement, USACE will work more closely with DODEA schools throughout the nation to bring STEM professionals into the classroom, Bostick said. The plan calls for leveraging the strengths of both organizations.
It fortifies the partnership between USACE districts and local DODEA schools and will include development of a specific project related to a civil works or other Corps of Engineers function, linking STEM content to curriculums within every academic grade level, according to the memorandum. The program will feature two competitions and awards ceremonies a year.
During the general's stop at Patch, he also gave a pep talk to cadets in the school's Army JROTC unit. Later, he was interviewed by students in a television and radio production class, who broadcast live and taped segments via internal school channels.