No mission is too difficult and no task is too great for the United States Army Corps of Engineers - Far East District. To tackle the challenge of inspiring and educating the next generation in STEM-related fields, the district hosted a series of interactive events at two Camp Humphreys elementary schools in South Korea in May to demonstrate real-world applications of STEM concepts with over 1,000 students.
At the events, the FED team provided 13 hands-on activities to foster creativity, curiosity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. By exposing the students to various STEM concepts, the program helped them build a foundation of knowledge that they can further develop in middle and high school.
“Bringing engineering experts into the school to share their knowledge and passion about STEM is invaluable to our students,” said Rick Taylor, a teacher at Humphreys Central Elementary School and STEM event coordinator. “These activities and the chance to interact directly with the engineers sparks curiosity, creativity and innovation in our students. And, they are going to be the problem solvers of the future.”
Dennis Headrick, FED STEM coordinator, has spearheaded a group of employees to facilitate these events at Central Elementary School and West Elementary School.
“I’m continuously motivated by the enthusiasm of the district’s volunteers, leadership, the schools’ facilitators and students,” Headrick said. “There’s a genuine passion for these events.”
As a project manager for the district's Installation Support Branch, he has brought a wealth of experience over the past three years he had led the program.
“As our STEM program continues to evolve and inspire young minds, I can see its significance and impact beyond the current day as these students become the interns and leaders of the future,” said Col. Heather Levy, district commander. “And it’s not a one-sided event: our own district volunteers come home from STEM school events with new passion and enthusiasm for their work after engaging with students and schools.”
This marked the 11th consecutive year of STEM activities for the district. The impact of the program on the students is evident through their feedback and engagement. Students throughout the events spoke about trying the experiments at home and eagerly asked questions about the activities that they tried.
“The STEM program encourages independent and hands-on learning,” said Jeannette Rho, an educational technologist and STEM event coordinator at West Elementary School. “It fosters creativity, curiosity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills in students.”
She emphasized the importance of FED continuing to inspire children and introduce them to various STEM fields, expanding their perspectives and encouraging them to pursue their interests.
The program at the district brings numerous benefits to the students and FED employees alike. Volunteers are not limited to engineers, but instead come from various backgrounds and professions in the district. This provided a fresh perspective and diverse experience to engage the kids in activities across multiple disciplines.
“FED is the front-line expert to execute this mission with their professional information based on STEM,” said Maj. Hyung Oh, Exercise and Plans Officer at the district.
He highlighted the critical role that FED plays in showcasing STEM opportunities to the students. Being located outside the continental U.S., where exposure to STEM-related jobs may be limited, the district has a unique opportunity to awaken the students' interest and increase their curiosity. By sharing their professional expertise, USACE demonstrates the possibilities and importance of STEM in improving lives and communities.
The hands-on activities and the chance to interact with professionals in the field created lasting memories and inspired the students to consider careers in STEM. By bridging the gap between education and real-world applications, FED’s STEM program equipped the students with the necessary skills and knowledge to thrive in an increasingly STEM-focused world.
“I hope that all students have an opportunity to participate in hands-on STEM programs like this one that inspire them to pursue their own interests in ways that are meaningful and relevant so that they are ready to meet the challenges of tomorrow,” Taylor said.