By MAUREEN ROSE
Gold Standard Acting Editor
Last week, the Army’s chief of engineers—Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick—visited Fort Knox. However, he wasn’t here to visit with other high-ranking officials.
He was here to talk to kids—specifically students at Scott Middle School on post to observe and encourage them in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The eighth graders were working in Ralph Serpico’s science class on a project designed to test their analytical skills.
Bostick said he has been on a campaign of encouragement in schools and universities across the nation to develop more interest in STEM subjects, which are becoming more important as the Army’s technologic advancements demand more critical thinkers with STEM skills.
“By the year 2018, we need a million more STEM graduates,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do, so we’re focusing on middle schools because it’s almost too late to begin engineering studies once students are already in college.”
Not only is he talking about STEM, but Bostick added that USACE has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Defense Education Activity to undertake a pilot program wherein the engineers will interact and mentor DoDEA students on a regular basis. Scott Middle School is one of seven schools in that pilot program. On a monthly basis, the Louisville District of USACE sends officers to work with science students where they consult, question and advise.
A STEM study program is a challenge, Bostick acknowledged, and said he tries to ensure students understand the long term benefits to STEM.
One of the challenges, Bostick added, is a lack of understanding about the dedicated work ethic needed to succeed in STEM subjects.
“There’s an issue of incentivizing young people to study STEM; many start with a passion for engineering and then fall away to other fields,” he said. “It’s a demanding field and we have to encourage them to stay with it.”
The Army is making progress he added:
“A couple of years ago, only 47 percent of uniformed officers had a STEM background. This year, ROTC is projecting 75 percent and West Point (the Army’s military academy) is projecting 92 percent of its graduating class will have STEM majors. A lot of credit goes to ROTC and senior leadership for that improvement, their focus on our requirements made a difference.”
Also observing the class was Tom Brady, the new DoDEA director, who said he was going to spend his first 100 days on the job gathering information and listening in order to gauge the issues he’ll need to address as the activity’s top administrator.
Brady said he has personal and professional reasons for ensuring that DoDEA schools are successful in their educational goals for military kids.
“My wife and all five of my children are DoDEA alums,” he said. Two of his grandchildren also attend DoDEA schools.
A retired Army officer and former installation commander, Brady brings a wealth of education experience to the table as well as his military acumen. He has served as a school superintendant in several civilian districts and chief operating officer for Fairfax County (Va.) public schools. From his vantage point, Brady said DoDEA schools compare very favorably with civilian schools.
“DoDEA schools are good, but I think we can be better,” he said. “There is a great commitment from the (Department of Defense) to resource us well; we’re not faced with the perennial cuts that I’ve seen in so many other school systems.”
The need for critical skills was behind the MOU with the Corps of Engineers, Brady explained, and the move is one he heartily endorses. Having the engineers involved at school provides students with positive role models and practical understanding of engineering.
Bostick added that the MOU was a reflection of two of the most important institutions that support democracy: the Army and public education.
“Both are critical for a democracy to survive,” he said. “This is a good place for the corps to do our part to ensure we have the engineers we need to accomplish the Army mission.”
Bostick added that while STEM subjects are certainly important, others are even higher on his priority list.
“More important is the skill to communicate—to speak and write well,” the general said. “It doesn’t make a difference which profession you choose, you still must be able to communicate.”