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Corps evaluates STEM competition at Middle Tennessee State University

Nashville District Public Affairs
Published April 14, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (April 13, 2015) – A group of technical experts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District attended a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Science Expo as judges and staffed an exhibit sponsored by the Middle Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub at the Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro on April 9.

Jimmy Waddle, chief of Engineering and Construction; Joanne Mann, executive officer, Andreas Patterson, chief of Natural Resources and Ron Douglas, chief, Information Technology for the Nashville District, served as judges for the event. Carol Haynes, chief of Equal Employment Office, David Claussen, an Equal Employment Office specialist, Stephanie Coleman, an Equal Employment Office specialist, and J. Percy Priest Park Ranger Benjamin Macintyre staffed the exhibit and talked with students about Corps STEM subjects.


The Nashville District team set up an exhibit and shared their knowledge about engineering, water management, dam safety, regulatory protection of natural resources, and the role of park rangers who carry out the natural resources mission at Corps projects.


“It is always interesting to see what new concepts that the students are thinking of for this competition,” said Waddle, “This is a model event for us to encourage students to enroll or challenge themselves in STEM fields that involves designing and building for college and potentially working for the Corps.


More than 300 students attended the expo with teams producing and managing 150 projects from 30 counties in middle Tennessee. Teams included; Metro Nashville public schools, Sumner County, Clarksville-Montgomery County school system, private schools and the newest additions…Rutherford and Wilson counties.  


According to the Director of the Middle Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub, Dr. Vicki Metzgar,   the program was organized by the Middle Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub. It is designed to encourage students to enroll or challenge themselves in STEM fields, which involves designing, building, processing and analyzing of STEM questions and problems.


“This is the biggest fair we have had to date and we are excited to have so many smart kids here,” said Metzgar. We are happy to have so many schools participate and especially have the Corps’ support to make it better by being a part of this program,”


At an awards ceremony at the conclusion of the evaluation, Waddle, recognized Dylan Upchurch and Ester Soper, a two-student team from the Central Magnet High school in Murfreesboro, and presented the team a glass trophy and a certificate for its Alternative Cooling System STEM project.


STEM projects are very important to the Corps,” said Waddle. “Not only is it important for us to be involved in our local schools, colleges and community but for Districts all over the country to hire these young smart people in the future to rebuild infrastructure, roads and bridges,” he said.


The STEM Expo showcased original projects designed and built by middle and high school students from the STEM Hub partnering school districts.


Douglas, an evaluator for the last two years, said the Alternative Cooling System project by Upchurch and Soper was innovative, and he saw an increase of student’s quality of processes, depth of research and communication among all the teams.


“I had the opportunity to gather more information and talk to students this year longer about their projects and they were much more professional,” said Douglas. Their appearance was sharp and the projects seemed to be better presented,” he said.  “It made evaluating tough and I wish we had more than five minutes per evaluation because some of these projects were absolutely fascinating.”


Dylan Schuch, a 10 year-old student from Union Elementary School in Sumner county, developed a Lead Light Pencil.  


Jorge Carriedo, a senior from Stratford High School in Nashville has competed in several STEM expos.  He said his team (Mia Campbell–Smith, Ambrose Varguson, jack Utley, Emma Warzynski and Christian Molnia) were all excited to be at MTSU.


“These young people have built some great projects and are very smart,” said Patterson. “Their presentations are really good,” she said. “In some cases, you have kids in middle and high school building projects on a collegiate level; it’s amazing.”


Student Rossell Brewer and a team from the Robert E. Ellis Middle School in Hendersonville, Tenn., developed a system to block and retain the flow of lava from an erupting volcano that will assist with emergency escape and evacuation for civilians.  


“She (Patterson) was very interested in our creativity, what we had learned about our project during the creative and building processes,” said Brewer.


According to Metzgar, these rigorous projects help students learn key academic content and practice skills through hands on learning which is necessary for success.


“Tennessee has great STEM assets and these experiences help students learn key academic content and practice 21st Century Skills including communication, collaboration, and critical thinking,” said Metzgar.


She said students in grades 5-12 in schools of STEM Hub Partners participated in the 2015 STEM EXPO. Projects include: one of five categories (STEM Research, Engineering I, Engineering II, Agricultural STEM, and Technology).


Marc Guthrie, an engineering instructor from Central Magnet High school said students work very hard researching, coming up with concepts and learning how projects work.


“We are excited to see real engineers and Corps personnel evaluating for the kids projects,” said Guthrie.  “This has been a great event for our kids and I think exposure to a variety of STEM career paths is great.”


The Nashville District supports STEM programs and is an official partner of the Stratford STEM Magnet High School. For more information, go to the district’s STEM Support Page. For more news and information, follow the district on Facebook at