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Posted 3/26/2015

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By Amy Christopherson
Transatlantic Division

WINCHESTER, Va. – Nearly 100 students from eight area high schools took a day away from their usual studies to learn about engineering career fields March 21 at Lord Fairfax Community College’s Middletown Campus.

During the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Middle East District’s annual Day with an Engineer, high school students interacted with engineers to explore the different disciplines of the engineering field.

Col. Vincent Quarles, commander of the Middle East District and a mechanical engineer, greeted the students as they arrived in the morning. He discussed his passion for engineering and for serving in the military.

“What excites me is being able to solve a problem that has never been solved before,” he said. “Whether it’s here or overseas. In Afghanistan, I was able to help bring water and electricity to kids who had never had that before.”

Quarles explained his hopes for the students.

“We need folks who are excited about solving problems – like you, our future engineers,” he said. “So today what we hope to do is inspire you.”

Before lunch, the students learned about well known engineers through history, from Leonardo Da Vinci to Robert. E. Lee, and from Alfred Hitchcock to Star Trek characters. They learned about important courses to take in high school to prepare for an engineering major in college, as well as starting salaries and job outlook.

Paul Weaver, a history teacher at Strasburg High School, accompanied a group of students to the event. The students were chosen based on their academic skills and interests.

“Most of the students don’t know anyone in the engineering field,” he said. “This is their first opportunity to speak face to face with an engineer.”

Weaver is a student himself. After teaching for over 20 years, he has been studying engineering technology at Lord Fairfax Community College, and expects to graduate in December. He said this helps students relate to him on a different level, and helps him promote not only STEM careers but also an attitude of lifelong learning.

After lunch, representatives from LFCC spoke to the group about their engineering specialization degree program which prepares students for transfer to a four-year college or university to complete their engineering degree.

Then students competed against teams from other schools in a design/build activity. Each team was required to design and build a tower using gumdrops and toothpicks, that was strong enough to hold a bottle of water.  Each team designated a project management team, a construction team and a design team to build the tower that would hold the water bottle highest in the air.

Weaver thought the day was a positive experience for his students, particularly since their tower won the competition.

“I think the most important things they will take away are the many different options open to them in the engineering field,” he said.

Day with an Engineer has traditionally involved three to five invited local high schools. But thanks to a partnership with Lord Fairfax Community College, which came with use of a much larger facility, the District was able to invite 13 schools, from Frederick, Clarke, Warren and Shenandoah counties. After transportation challenges and schedule conflicts, eight schools were able to send students.

“Lord Fairfax Community College was excited to partner with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on their Day with an Engineer event,” said Brandy Boies, LFCC Coordinator of Student Life. “Engineering Professor, Bill Lewis and Dean of Business & Technologies, Brenda Byard introduced the new Associate of Science Degree in Engineering Specialization. The degree is designed for individuals who plan to transfer to a four- year college or university to complete a baccalaureate or higher degree program in an engineering discipline such as mechanical, civil, construction, ocean and mining, and materials engineering. The Corps of Engineers staff and the high school students were great to work with, and we are looking forward to additional partnerships in the future.”

The Blue Ridge Chapter of the Society of Military Engineers also helped support the event. The group provided the trophies presented to the top three winning schools, paid for all the lunches, and coordinated goody bags for the participants with help from their member firms. The chapter has also committed to support Day with an Engineer for many years to come.