Commander’s Column: Preparing for tomorrow NOW by encouraging our communities to get excited about STEM

Col. John W. Eisenhauer, P.E.

Portland District Commander
Colonel John W. Eisenhauer, P.E. (Corps of Engineers photo)

At a recent Portland District town hall, Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick said we needed to remember only 12 words to know where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was headed over the next few years. But it was the last three of those words that really captured my attention – Prepare for Tomorrow – and more specifically, his comments about STEM.

STEM is the acronym used to describe the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields of study in the United States. During his speech, the Chief cited some disturbing statistics, saying that America ranks among the lowest in the world – with only 14 countries graduating a lower percentage of engineers. He said, even though our nation is a world leader in other areas, we rank with developing countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia in terms of our success to produce engineering graduates. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard the Chief address this issue and his comments only re-emphasized my desire to focus on STEM outreach programmatically here at Portland District.

With that, and as I begin my last year as commander of the Portland District, it is my goal to develop a sustainable outreach program to reach our children
at all grade levels – elementary, middle and high school and college – to develop their interest and, even excite them, about STEM areas of study. The endeavor must be long term and not just a quick ‘check the box’ effort to mark off our responsibilities concerning this issue.

Instead, my fundamental goal is to increase the number of students coming out of high school who choose to pursue STEM vocation or degree in college. I want each of us to excite students of all ages about STEM and, where appropriate, discuss opportunities within the Corps of Engineers.

Many of us also are engineers or scientists, or engaged with math or technology, so another goal for you and me both, is for us to ‘honor our profession’ through our intentional efforts to develop future generations. I also want to be sure we are providing the same information and opportunities to our underrepresented populations, women and minorities around Oregon and southwestern Washington.

To begin, I’ve met with District leaders to clarify our STEM outreach goals as well as develop beginning objectives to help carry them out. Together, we decided that a “slow is smooth; smooth is fast” approach will ensure an enduring plan for the future – that can be carried out for years to come – by any commander or any staff.

Some outcomes of the gathering included the need to capture what the District was already doing in terms of STEM outreach. We also need to establish a planning team to further develop objectives, identify partnerships with schools, community organizations and associations, do research and development to plan a purposed program of STEM activities, events and education targeted at all levels of school and community engagement.

We need people for this effort who are passionate, not only about this issue, but also about the groups we are targeting. We need your knowledge and experiences to help us shape this program. Many of you will likely be involved at some level or another … but if this is an area of interest to you I encourage you to see how you can get involved now – wherever you work and live. You can do this by contacting Erica Jensen in the Public Affairs Office.

Reflecting back on the Chief’s final remarks at the town hall, he talked about the year 2042. That’s 29 years from now, and a good amount of time for us to help increase the number of students coming out of high school who will pursue a STEM vocation or degree – and some of whom, may eventually become one of our Corps leaders of tomorrow.