HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. (Oct. 27, 2021)— Antioch Middle School teacher Thomas Yan toured the Old Hickory Lock and Dam, and the Old Hickory Hydropower Plant during the Middle Tennessee Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Innovation Network Externship with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on October 21-22 to learn what STEM job opportunities USACE has to offer future graduates.
According to everfi.com, a digital lessons resource site for teachers and students, more than half of all students will be expected to use STEM as part of their future careers, so providing them with both exposure and career training is extremely valuable.
Knowing the importance, The Middle Tennessee STEM Innovation Network coordinates the annual STEM teacher externship with organizations like the Corps to give educators a chance to visit real-world STEM job sites and locations to collect as much information to take back to the classroom and share developmental opportunities involving STEM.
Teachers develop a STEM project-based learning curriculum plan based on their experience to give students a closer look at the skills, technologies, and careers in these particular fields.
Yan began the two-day externship in the Old Hickory Visitor Center Conference Room, where USACE Biologist Sarah Pedrick shared a PowerPoint presentation on water management and the importance of maintaining safe and clean waterways for local residents to enjoy.
Pedrick explained how there are many different types of microorganisms in local lakes, some good and some bad.
“We test for toxic algal bloom and keep an eye out for toxic algae, like cyanobacteria, to ensure the waterways stay clean and safe for local wildlife and people visiting the lakes,” Pedrick explained during the presentation.
Yan then ventured out of the classroom and onto the Old Hickory Lock and Dam where Lock and Dam Equipment Mechanic Supervisor Justin Gray gave him a tour of the lock while a small fishing boat traveled through the lock chamber and anchored close by to fish in Old Hickory Lake.
“It’s great to be here seeing firsthand how these things work. I appreciate seeing how much work goes into these engineer jobs, I can take this knowledge back to my students who may be interested in a career with the Corps one day,” Yan explained.
Yan then met with Senior Mechanic Greg Forte who walked Yan through the Old Hickory Powerplant, pointing out all of the components that make the hydropower plant run.
“It’s nice to see how these generators work. To see all the moving parts and how large these machines are. To see for myself and hear how they work to help this place function is very interesting,” Yan said. “My students are really going to enjoy hearing about all the things the Corps has to offer.”
Yan also had a virtual meeting with the Nashville District Deputy Lt. Col. Nathan Branen who shared with Yan all the great job opportunities the Corps has for students wanting to enter STEM fields after high school graduation.
“Students can become rangers while in college and work at our park and lake locations while they make their way through the Corps program,” Branen shared.
“There are also great job opportunities in the active Army that go hand-in-hand with STEM, like working in water treatment or as a technical engineer,” said Branen.
On day two of the externship Yan met with USACE Biologist Travis Wiley at Drakes Creek Park to learn about environmental resources during a stream assessment where Wiley showed Yan how to collect and analyze aquatic invertebrates which can be clear indications of a safe or unhealthy aquatic ecosystem.
“If you pull one of these rocks from the steam here,” Wiiley said as he retrieved a large rock from the rushing water and flipped it over for Yan, “you can really see all the active and healthy invertebrates which couldn’t live in an unstable or unclean waterway.”
Wiley showed Yan several different terrain indicators that reflect the direct health of the waterway.
“The tree line around the creek is a good indication of the heath of the creek. There shouldn’t be a lot of dirt missing from around the roots, or else that’s an indication of the shoreline slipping,” Wiley pointed out to Yan as they walked across a mass of large rocks creating a small island in the middle of the creek.
Yan said his students may enjoy this part of the externship more than any other due to the hands-on interaction the kids will have from locating invertebrates and identifying visible warning signs of unhealthy waterways.
“There’s a creek in the back of the middle school that would be perfect to take my classes out to. They can find the invertebrates right there and see for themselves all the living creatures who thrive in these ecosystems located right in our own backyards,” Yan said.
The externship wrapped up with a trip to the Old Hickory Environmental Study Area where Yan sat down with Natural Resource Program Manager Crystal Tingle who gave Yan more valuable learning materials to add to his collection over the past two days.
Tingle shared with Yan the purpose behind the environmental study area.
“Our environmental study area is home to several tree species, and we use this location to work with the community. Groups like the Boy Scouts come here and build things like bird houses and help maintain the area,” Tingle explained, “it’s a great learning experience and several people from the community like to come and see the birds who live here. We also have a butterfly sanctuary people really seem to enjoy.”
Yan said he appreciates the externship with the Corps and enjoyed getting out of the classroom so he can bring this priceless information back to his students who may be considering a job in STEM.
“I like to bring new stuff to my students all the time, and I think that these types of opportunities open the door for new experiences my kids can have in my classroom which may lead them down the road to a job in STEM,” Yan said, “knowing that they can work at a place like the Corps and be in the military doing STEM or just working for the Corps as a civilian is something that may interest many of my students.”
For more news and information visit the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps, and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.