Top engineer promotes STEM to students

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commanding general made a pitch to spur more interest in science, technology, engineering and math among American students during a visit to Patch High School May 14.

Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, the 53rd chief of engineers, talked about USACE’s expanded support to the Department of Defense Education Activity in preparing military children for college and the workforce. He also highlighted the need to reverse a national decline in engineer graduates and those entering STEM jobs, professions and research fields.

The meeting with Patch students and faculty came ahead of a new accord between the two organizations.

On May 20, the general signed a USACE partnership agreement with DODEA, paving the way to more collaborative educational and professional opportunities tied to STEM careers.

The program takes effect in the 2013-14 school year.

“I’ve encouraged the entire Corps of Engineers that we should be a leader in STEM,” he said. “This is the organization that built the Washington Monument, finished the Panama Canal … and did a lot of things on the waterways of the United States of America.

“We respond to disasters like Superstorm Sandy, and we did the construction after Katrina. These are all engineering feats that are useful for Americans to understand.

“It’s important that we increase the number of engineers. Those who might have a proclivity and interest in studying engineering should pursue that, because the country needs them,” he said.

Recent statistics show just how significant the deficit has become.

In 2008, just four of every 100 American college graduates earned a STEM-related degree, which is among the lowest percentages in the world. Only 14 countries — including Cuba, Cambodia and Bangladesh — produce fewer engineers. By comparison, China boasts 31 STEM graduates out of every 100, while the figure sits at 10 in Russia.

Based on population growth and retirement rates, the U.S. anticipates 2.8 million STEM job openings by 2020. To keep pace, the nation must generate about 1 million more college graduates over the current trend in STEM areas of study.

“STEM is a priority for DOD,” Bostick said. “This is important for our nation. It’s also important internationally. … But the United States, in particular, is having a challenge.”

Military and civilian communities worldwide have benefited from Army STEM innovations, according to Bostick.

“Just about everything you touch or use or operate has at its very beginning some involvement with our science, technology, engineering and math background and research,” he said. “Some STEM individual has been involved in the design, organization and development of the products that we use from day to day.

“In order for us to be the leaders in this in the future, it’s going to take the communities to rally around those who wish to study. … Communities can help by encouraging young men and women from every walk of life, every background, who have an interest and ability to study STEM to pursue those dreams.”

Bostick, whose father also served in the Army, is a product of Department of Defense Dependents Schools. He attended second grade at Smith Elementary School in Baumholder and later went to high school in Okinawa, Japan.