Europe District supports NEW, STEM education

Rich Gifaldi, Europe District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sustainable Design manager, checks the work of Wiesbaden Middle School students during an exercise. The STEM event was part of National Engineers Week 2017, taking place in classrooms worldwide.

When architect Tyler Bush presented a design class to sixth-graders building a community using computer software, he noted he would have used a hammer — not Minecraft, Education Edition — when he was in school.

Participating in Europe District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ National Engineers Week, Bush talked about the technology used in David Bruce’s Wiesbaden Middle School classroom — a 3D printer, smart board and the computer stations along three walls.

The Corps celebrates engineers, Feb. 20 to 24, to showcase how science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses lead to careers as engineers, architects, biologists and geologists. Bush and Rich Gifaldi, working in Europe District’s Engineering and Construction Division, volunteered to share how the schoolwork correlates with their careers.

Bush met with sixth-graders who are taking Bruce’s introduction to applied technology, part of the school’s “wheel of electives” to introduce the students to courses like art, graphics, music and hands-on science. Urban planning and the character of a city was on the agenda for Bush, who arrived in Wiesbaden this fall. The first-time volunteer talked about what drives design decisions, the layout of a city — Wiesbaden is a ring city and the ancient Egyptians used the grid system — and the functions of buildings and buffer zones.

Bush also quizzed the students on countries and agencies that use Minecraft for urban planning — Sweden, Denmark, Norway and the United Nations.

“This is the type of class I would have wanted when I was in middle school,” Bush said, as he watched the sixth-graders incorporate his discussion on scale and type of materials into the cities they were building. “I like the STEM approach.”

Working with seventh- and eighth-graders in Bruce’s electronics class, Gifaldi focused on renewable energy like solar photovoltaic systems — explaining how they work, types of materials used to conduct energy and the efficiencies of each type. He, too, used examples to illustrate his presentation: Ritter Sport, the chocolate company near Stuttgart, and the 21st-century Wiesbaden High School the district is building on Hainerberg.

Gifaldi is the district’s Sustainable Design manager and has volunteered during past National Engineers Weeks and Earth Day celebrations. He said he wanted to give the students a project that would show what an engineer working in sustainability would do regularly, thus an exercise in whether or not solar power would help Wiesbaden High School be a “net-zero building.” A net-zero building produces as much energy as it uses.

“I want the kids to understand how their interest in math and science classes equates to possible jobs,” he said. “When I was a kid, I didn’t know what to do with my interest and events like this help focus on the possibilities.”

Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, commanding general and chief of Engineers, wrote an email to all Corps employees regarding National Engineers Week: “We all have an important role to play in securing the nation, energizing our economy, reducing risks related to disaster and preparing for tomorrow. Since engineering relies heavily on mathematics and science education, and too few students are choosing STEM subjects and careers, I encourage you to look at ways you can help students and teachers explore engineering.”

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