What do ferrets, physics, archaeology and computers have in common? They are all subjects that captured the interest of 50 seventh- and eighth-graders from across Maryland, who came together March 13 for the annual Easy as Pi event.
The Easy as Pi event brings together volunteers from Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields to provide the students a learning opportunity into their career path.
STEM outreach is an important initiative for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, especially with the growing demand for graduates with STEM-related degrees. According to the STEM coalition website, “there are 26 million STEM jobs in the U.S., and STEM jobs compromised 20% of all U.S. jobs.”
Emily Schiffmacher, chief of the Military Project Management Section in the Environmental and Munitions Design Center at the Corps of Engineers Baltimore District, recognizes the critical need to educate children in the STEM areas. For the past six years, she has coordinated the Easy as Pi event, as one way to reach out to students in Maryland.
“These kids need help learning about STEM, and the teachers need help teaching these technical subjects,” Schiffmacher said. “Even if I just help one kid that’s all that matters to me.”
With the help of the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) Baltimore Post, Schiffmacher is able to provide a location for the event, as well as funding for the bus transportation, substitute teachers, and lunch. SAME funding is limited, so each school district can only send 10 students.
“It is important to contribute to developing young minds to the basic knowledge of science,” said Ola Awosika, chair of the SAME Baltimore Post’s scholarship and education committee. “This exposure then might lead them to the field of engineering. I also hope these students will go back to their schools and spread the word about the event to other students. We want to get more students involved.”
Mildred Marsh traveled more than 150 miles from Smith Island to Baltimore with her daughter Laura, an eighth-grade student at Crisfield High School and Academy.
“This event is very important for my daughter,” Marsh said. “Her teacher said she is off the charts when it comes to math, and I want to make sure to encourage her strengths.”
The students spent the day rotating around various activities and hearing from professionals in the fields of archeology, nature, indoor environmental science, computer programming, physics and video game design. Schiffmacher matched up the students with the rotation based on the individual student’s interest.
Jeff Friedhoffer, a retired NSA employee, showed students how a computer works. He explained that a “computer is stupid until you tell it what to do.” This statement really resonated with the young students.
After the presentation one of the children approached Friedhoffer and explained she is already programming her own computer at home. The pair shared a very technical, high-level conversation. Friedhoffer asked the student her age. She replied, “I am 12 and will be 13 next month.”
“This is exactly why I volunteer for these events,” Friedhoffer said.