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Commentary: Nashville District hosts teacher externship

Commentary: Nashville District hosts teacher externship

By Stephanie Coleman
Nashville District Equal Employment & Opportunity Officer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (June 26, 2019) For the past decade, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District has been consistently stepping up its STEM initiatives in our area schools. From tours of our projects (to include locks and dams) to career fairs and student job shadows, we have provided excellent opportunities to publicly showcase what we do as it relates to STEM.

The most recent of our school STEM initiatives came in March 2019, when we were cordially invited to engage in partnership with the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network to host a Teacher Externship for several Middle Tennessee educators in the month of June. The TSIN is a public-private partnership with the Tennessee Department of Education with the mission of expanding educational opportunities around science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in Tennessee in other words, preparing students for future STEM careers!

TSIN externship programs were designed to expose educators to the world of industry, so they could better prepare students for the world of work. The network was awarded a grant in order that the educators would spend three to five days on site at a local engineering or manufacturing firm. They would be paid a stipend to participate in the program and develop STEM curricular units based on their experience to expose students to the skills, technologies, and careers in the field.

Based on their fields of interest, four Sumner County teachers were paired with the Nashville District. The team of teachers included Stephanie Williams and Brittany Gillespie, both fourth grade teachers at Station Camp Elementary; and Jennifer Vaudrey and Susan Flowers, second grade teachers at William Burrus Elementary. They arrived to the Nashville District headquarters June 3, 2019, with Maj. Justin Toole, deputy commander, on hand to welcome them for what would be an awesome experiential learning opportunity.

Over the course of three days, the educators were exposed to a wide variety of STEM-related work going on at the Corps. Excellently coordinated by Natural Resources Specialist Allison Walker, our externship goal to inspire these educators through examples of real-world problems and relevant career fields to take back to the classroom and use to enrich curriculum, was achieved.

On the first day they received a “Corps 101” briefing by Project Manager Loren McDonald, and then spent the next two days at Old Hickory Lake project. The presentation and visit to the project, not to mention the interaction with Corps experts, armed the teachers with professional knowledge and inspiration that they can reach back to for project-based curriculum development at their STEM schools.

Walker provided a few of the highlights of the externship experience.

Hydropower: Teachers participated in a discussion of the hydropower renovation program and received an overview of how hydropower works. The following day, they received a tour of Old Hickory Power House, and even though it was undergoing repairs, they thought it was awesome to see some of the components disassembled.

Navigation: The teachers were shown demonstrations of how locks work and the physics behind it, and they took a boat ride through Old Hickory Lock. They also participated in a discussion about the construction at Chickamauga Lock.

Environmental Stewardship: They took part in a stream assessment techniques demonstration at Drakes Creek. Teachers expressed interest in using the techniques for a project with their students in a creek near their school.

Water Safety and Recreation: Teachers received water safety information, in addition to programming available that rangers could share with school groups. Being from Sumner County, the teachers had already expressed their love for Old Hickory Lake and enjoyed hearing more about recreational opportunities in their area.

Water Quality and Water Management: Teachers met in the Water Management work room and received an overview about the 2010 and 2019 high-water events and how decisions are made in the Cumberland River Basin. The teachers really dug into how to cultivate multi-variable problem solving skills in young minds. They also assisted in water sampling on the water quality/survey boat at Old Hickory Lake.

Geology, Instrumentation and Mapping: The teachers looked at some cool models of dams and the support offered through CADD and GIS systems for observing dams, particularly in the soils and geology realms. On the last day of their visit, they received an overview of the instrumentation program for monitoring dam safety and automated systems that can convey information remotely. They liked this demo because they have lots of students that like to “tinker” with electronics, and were excited to share new career fields with them.

A very special thanks to the externship team/guides: Maj. Justin Toole, Loren McDonald, Adam Walker, Sarah Wiles, Frank Mills, Matt Davis, Elizabeth Boeglin, Randy Kerr, Justin Lawrence, Crystal Tingle, Jacob Albers, Daniel Clark, John Malone, Robert Turner, Jake Kennedy, Ashley Fuentes, Austin Auld, Travis Wiley, Joy Broach, Bill Walker, and Scott Massa.

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