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Posted 5/23/2014

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By Stephen Satkowski
Far East District


Shake, rattle and roll. No, it’s not the Elvis Presley song, it’s the way Far East District engineers graded students during an earthquake tower challenge at Seoul American Middle School.

“We are trying to introduce the students to engineering principles,” said Doug Bliss, chief of the geotechnical and environmental engineering branch. “In this case they’re doing dynamic loading of towers. They’re learning engineering at a rudimentary level.”

The students’ towers were built out of straw, paper clips, string and straight pins and tested to see how much shaking the structures could withstand.

“These basic principles can be used for actual construction and can build into later careers and building actual structures,” said Bliss.

Students had the opportunity to test their structures and go back to the drawing board and re-design their towers, learning from their mistakes if their towers collapsed.

 “I learned that symmetry helped make our building structurally sound,” said Jack Dillon, eight-grade student at Seoul American Middle School. “You can’t have one side be stronger than the other, so it all needs to be in sync.”

“The foundation failed because we didn’t have enough paper clips so it fell over,” said Eric Byrd, eighth- grade student at Seoul American Middle School.

Student Steven Masley said getting out of the classroom and receiving hands-on experience from professional engineers was both educational and exciting.

“It’s not about who wins, it’s about having fun,” said Masley.

Sparking an interest in engineering at a young age can also help stem the slide of students who reject the field in college. In the 1970’s 40 percent of the world’s scientists and engineers resided in the U.S. Today that number has shrunk to about 15 percent.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only five percent of U.S. workers are employed in fields related to science and engineering, yet they are responsible for more than 50 percent of our sustained economic expansion.

“These days the workforce is very technical so we want to get the students interested early so perhaps they’ll have more opportunities to compete in the global marketplace for jobs,” said Bliss. “The teachers and students are hungry for real life examples which we can give them because we do it every day.”

“They are being exposed to things scientists, chemists and geologists do,” said Bliss. “That exposure might help them to decide to choose this for a career.”

The tower competition is part of STEMed, a science, technology, engineering and mathematics educational partnership between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headquarters and Department of Defense Dependent Schools.

earthquake engineering Far East District STEM