A number of EM sites marked Engineers Week, Feb. 16-22, in a variety of ways, from conducting creative science and engineering demonstrations with middle school students, to inspiring interest in the field of engineering in high school students, to highlighting the careers of women engineers advancing cleanup. Founded by the National Society of Professional Engineers in 1951, Engineers Week is dedicated to ensuring a diverse and well-educated future engineering workforce by increasing interest in engineering and technology careers.
Savannah River Site
Engineering ‘Teach-Ins’ Have Reached More Than 20,000 Students
AIKEN, S.C. – Middle-school students created straw bridges, homemade hovercrafts, and fiber optic communication systems with the help of Savannah River Site (SRS) engineers and scientists supporting Engineers Week.
The interactive science and engineering demonstrations were the highlight of 133 “teach-ins” conducted by more than 60 SRS engineers and scientists over a two-week period at 20 local middle schools.
Managed by EM contractor Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS), the teach-ins have reached more than 20,000 students in several area school systems since 2008.
“Through teach-ins, students gain a better understanding of how engineers go about solving problems in the different disciplines of engineering,” said Ingrid McNeil, a seventh-grade teacher at Episcopal Day School (EDS) in Augusta, Georgia. “I would hope that the teach-ins at EDS fueled curiosity and creativity in students as they explored hands-on activities that allowed them the freedom to plan, experiment, and then improve a design.”
EDS seventh-grader Jackson Evans noted that the demonstration he took part in — building a tower from spaghetti noodles and marshmallows — was a challenge, even with the addition of buttresses.
“The engineers from SRS visiting our schools will help influence us to become engineers and hopefully reach our potential,” Evans said. “I also feel more open-minded about studying engineering now.”
It’s more common for kids to want to become baseball or football players, or car mechanics, than to pursue careers in engineers, Evans said.
“Engineering is not the number one thing that kids want to do,” he said. “Having all these engineers out giving talks helps spread the word, helping to grow engineering."
West Valley Demonstration Project
Women Engineers Share Their Career Inspirations
“As a young girl growing up on a dairy farm, engineering was not on the early list of career choices, even though I loved math, science, and solving problems,” CHBWV Facility Manager Lettie Chilson said. “I was the first child to go to college and had a wonderful support system, but little experience in choosing a profession.”
Chilson said she followed the advice of her guidance counselor and attended the Rochester Institute of Technology, where she obtained a degree in industrial engineering.
“What I enjoy most about engineering at West Valley is the opportunity to work with other talented team members to solve project challenges,” Chilson said. “When I started at West Valley, I told my manager that this job was fun and when I didn’t find it fun anymore, I would look elsewhere. I am still having fun, 27 years later.”
Chilson supports science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs for girls through the Girl Scouts and the Society of Women Engineers.
“I was a math and physics whiz kid, so naturally being an engineer should have been something someone could have mentioned to me,” said Janice Williams, CHBWV vice president of regulatory strategy. “Growing up in Woodstock, New York, with a population of 6,000, I knew I had to attend college.”
Williams said she decided to become an engineer after completing several interesting courses in her first year at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York. She transferred to Colorado School of Mines, an engineering school, where she became the first-ever petroleum engineer from Woodstock.
“Everyone’s personality traits are what give this site diversity and excellence,” Williams said. “The work we do is complex and difficult, and there is always a new recommendation to explore or a challenge to meet. Our engineers are always there to exceed expectations, and I get to be a part of that.”
“The only subjects I found interesting in high school were math and science, so I decided to major in chemical engineering as it combined both subject matters,” CHBWV Operations Manager Pam Walters said. “There are always new and exciting challenges at West Valley. Even though my career path has led to a more operations-oriented direction than an engineering one, I still get to work with our engineers in developing and implementing new and creative ways to address these challenges.”
“I had my heart set on becoming an international lawyer until my uncle took me to work with him one day to see what happens at the local General Motors engine plant,” CHBWV Safety Engineer Cheryl Wozniak said. “I was amazed at the effort it took to create an engine from design to build. It was this experience that encouraged me to become an engineer, especially when seeing it firsthand triggered my brain in ways I never knew possible.”
Wozniak said West Valley is a unique place to work and each day poses a new challenge. She is inspired by the ideas her coworkers come up with to accomplish goals.
“The most interesting aspect of my job is to take those ideas and determine how the process can be completed safely and compliantly,” she said.
Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Engineers Go Extra Mile to Interest Youth in STEM
CARLSBAD, N.M. – Engineers at EM’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) recently talked with a local high school science class about the unique geology that makes the Carlsbad area the perfect location for a geologic repository for transuranic waste disposal.
With a goal of sparking interest in the diverse field of engineering, the WIPP engineers gave the students a chance to learn about and test drive a robot designed to explore prohibited-access areas of the WIPP underground.
Charlin Hernandez, educator at Carlsbad High School, invited the engineers to speak to the students, who ranged from sophomores to seniors. As a person who recently completed an externship with Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP), WIPP’s management and operations contractor, Hernandez knows many career paths are available through WIPP.
Chris Dominguez, who has worked as a geotechnical engineer with NWP for the past four years, presented information about his position in the engineering department and encouraged students to think outside the box.
“My goal was to stimulate their interest in pursuing a career in engineering and provide some exposure to a career path where engineering takes place in their own backyard,” Dominguez said.
WIPP has supported Engineers Week for over 25 years. The Engineers Week program for NWP is run by Susan Brooks, head of the contractor’s engineering programs.
“Engineers Week is a time to celebrate how engineers make a difference in our world, increase public dialogue about the need for engineers, and bring engineering to life for kids, educators, and parents,” Brooks said.
Every year, the NWP program reaches up to 2,000 students through science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) events, in-class projects, and presentations, involving everything from building bridges out of toothpicks to launching rockets.
More Than 400 Students Attend Engineering Day
IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – Engineers who support EM’s cleanup at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Site helped more than 400 elementary and high school students understand principles and tools used in engineering projects throughout the world during an event at the Museum of Idaho on Feb. 22.
During the annual Engineering Day, employees of Fluor Idaho, EM’s INL Site cleanup contractor, worked with the students to build rubber band-powered helicopters, which climbed high in the museum, electromagnetic devices used to pick up metal objects, paper bridges, and other projects.
“It’s rewarding to see the excitement of students when they build something based on the concepts that they just learned,” Fluor Idaho Chief Engineer Joseph Giebel said.
Students also discovered the basics of wind, solar, and fuel cell technologies, and participated in a hands-on demonstration of simple machines, such as pulleys and gears, and how those devices are found in everyday objects.
“Students were impressed in learning how these basic tools make our lives easier and more efficient,” Giebel said.
Nathan McKever, reliability/mechanical engineer with EM Richland Operations Office contractor Mission Support Alliance, met with seventh-graders at Park Middle School in Kennewick, Washington during Engineers Week. Following his presentation, McKever guided the students as they built toothpick-and-marshmallow bridges and challenged them to see how many marbles their structures could support.
Engineers from EM Office of River Protection tank operations contractor Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS) visited a fifth-grade class at Sacajawea Elementary School in Richland, Washington during Engineers Week. The WRPS engineers made brief presentations and lead fun, interactive activities that gave students a feel for what it's like to be an engineer. In one exercise, they used ping-pong balls to learn concepts used at the Hanford tank farms.