By Tracy Robillard
SAVANNAH, Ga. - Why should American students care about pursuing engineering careers?
Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are communicating the answer to students throughout the year-and especially during National Engineers Week, which runs this year from Feb. 16 through Feb. 22.
Engineering capabilities directly correlate to the nation's vitality in an ever-increasing global economy, said Ed Krolikowski, a senior architect with the Corps' Savannah District.
"To keep our place in the forefront of the world economies, we need to stimulate our students of today to become the future engines of industry and advancement in the engineering and scientific fields, which directly leads to the creation of meaningful manufacturing and other related jobs," Krolikowski said. "Otherwise, we will fall behind to become a second-rate country requiring foreign companies and countries to provide our technological needs as they see fit."
Krolikowski, who has 35 years of experience as an architect, said the need for engineers and other related professionals significantly impacts the Corps of Engineers, since the agency hires U.S. citizens; whereas private firms can fill positions with foreign-hired or sub-contracted employees.
"Therefore, the Corps has a highly-vested interest in ensuring that we have numerically adequate and excellently educated students to fill the jobs of the future to meet our country's needs," Krolikowski said.
According to 2012 data from the Organization for Economic and Co-operation and Development, the U.S. ranks 26th in the world in math competency and 21st in the world for science competency among its high school-age students, with no significant change in these performances over time.
This trend is a major reason why the Corps promotes STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) outreach nationally. Like other Districts within the Corps, the Savannah District routinely participates in outreach events at local schools and universities throughout the year, with an increased emphasis during National Engineers Week.
National Engineers Week is a nationwide observance focused on increasing public dialogue about the need for engineers and celebrating how engineers make a difference in the world. It began in 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers and has expanded over recent decades under the direction of DiscoverE, a volunteer community formerly known as the National Engineers Week Foundation.
For this years' event, the Savannah District planned outreach engagements with five elementary, middle and high schools in the Savannah area to promote STEM career paths to an estimated 1,100 students.
Corps employees-such as Jason Lavecchia, a hydrologist-share their knowledge with students through their own personal experiences.
"During my senior year of college, I had an internship with a water resource focused engineering firm and really enjoyed the work they were doing," Lavecchia said. "I took more hydrology and hydraulics courses during my senior year, and then learned about the Corps of Engineers hydrology careers at a career fair, which was a perfect fit for me."
Lavecchia entered government service through a local intern program with the Savannah District, and is now a full-time employee and a key player in the Corps' management of the Savannah River.
"I regulate water releases for the three Corps of Engineers' dams on the Savannah River," he often tells students when describing his job. "I use computer models, current data, and forecasted data to determine the most beneficial water releases through the dams to maximize project purposes, such as hydropower and water quality, and minimize impacts such as flooding."
Jobs like Lavecchia's not only impact lives and property, but they are personally and professionally fulfilling, he said.
"STEM is an exciting, constantly evolving, and rewarding career path," Lavecchia said. "New technology is constantly emerging, which allows for advanced ways of solving technical problems more efficiently. It's never boring."
Cassie Bray, an architect student at the Savannah College of Art and Design and a student intern with the Savannah District, agrees.
"STEM fields are what ultimately allow us to understand how the world works; therefore, these are the careers that give you the power to change the world," Bray said.
But it's not just about personal fulfillment. Engineers also make good salaries and have high job placement rates, Krolikowski said.
"A career in engineering can be profitable in providing a comfortable lifestyle," Krolikowski said. "Though you may not become rich like a rock star or pro football player, you will get paid substantially more than minimum wage, and there is prestige in your occupation. Engineering-related jobs also can provide opportunities to travel and see the world."
The Corps of Engineers employs a variety of professionals-electrical, structural and mechanical engineers, hydrologists, physical scientists, geologists, biologists, natural resource managers, and more. To learn more about career options and STEM with the Corps, visit www.usace.army.mil/stem