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Posted 10/27/2014

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By Cheryl A. Moore, Public Affairs Specialist
U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District

Where would a person interested in the environment get a job working with engineers? Do girls operate dredges and tow barges? These are just a couple of the many questions asked by the 35 students from two area middle schools who toured the Missouri River Project Office in Omaha, Neb. to learn about futures in the engineering profession and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“The Missouri River Project Office positively impacted these students,” said Curtis Smith, Omaha District Special Emphasis Program Manager and Lead Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist. Smith is also a board member for the Hispanic Employment Council (HEC) of Omaha. The Omaha District EEO office has partnered with the HEC for ten years to promote the importance of STEM sciences and vast opportunities within the Corps locally and beyond.

The HEC Role Model Project is a mentoring program for eighth grade Hispanic students from Bryan and Norris Middle Schools. The HEC of Nebraska sponsors the students. They are recommended by their teachers. The goal of the HEC is to get students interested in college and other opportunities available after high school. This year’s visit with Omaha District on Oct. 22 followed the month-long celebration of National Hispanic Heritage. The program links students with federal agencies and private industry to introduce them to potential careers they may aspire to achieve in the future. They participate in six to eight role model visits to colleges and businesses each year.

John Nunez, Hispanic Employment Council President and Department of Treasury employee in Omaha said the HEC has been sponsoring mentoring visits for more than 20 years in partnership with both schools. “The trip to the Missouri River Project Office opened the eyes of the students and had the students engaged in conversation with our presenters,” said Nunez. “It was a blend of learning about the organization and the mission indoors and a walk outdoors to see some of the equipment used in river operations.”

Andrew Barry, Omaha District Civil Engineer and Angela Pletka, Omaha District Natural Resource Specialist, gave the students a presentation about the Corps, all the locations from which the Corps operates, and its missions. Students learned about some of the career options available throughout the Corps and those available at the MRPO.
“Students were taught what the Missouri River looked like in the days of Lewis and Clark and how Congress tasked us to engineer the river to allow for better navigation,” Pletka said. They also learned about levees and the flood risk reduction dams, built near Omaha and Lincoln, which the district operates and maintains.
They also talked about how these projects have impacted natural resources-particularly changing habitat and impacting species in the area, prompting the need for other scientists like biologists to help recover and manage the habitat for fish and wildlife.

Alan Schmidt, Omaha District Maintenance Supervisor, showed the students the tow boat and barges in the basin and talked about how they are used to accomplish the river work, showing them along the river how defined the navigation channel is and some of the structures that keep it that way.
“The students really enjoyed getting to see the Missouri River projects in action,” said Lisa Raszler, Bryan Middle School Librarian. “A lot of the boys would have loved to have gotten some “hands-on” time with the big machinery.” Some of that equipment included a crane, dredger, and the Missouri River Project Office’s barge.

According to Ruth Bentzinger, Omaha District Natural Resource Specialist, the tour was a chance for her to inspire students to look into an environmental career and the broad spectrum of related career paths it provides. “I talked with them about typical duties a natural resources manager may do, the importance of the ecosystem, and also how we balance habitat restoration with recreation for the public,” she said.

“The students were great,” said Pletka. “They knew that engineers build bridges and roads, but they didn’t know that we build dams and maintain navigation channels.” Pletka said none of them knew that the Papio lakes were due to our flood control efforts. “It was a great opportunity to partner with HEC and the students,” she said. “We were able to show them who we are, what we do, and hopefully inspire some of them into STEM programs.”

Matt Krajewski, Operations Project Manager at the Missouri River Project, said, “The mentoring visit was very successful. “The MRPO staff did an outstanding job informing these young folks about futures in the engineering profession and the Corps,” said Krajewski.

“What a great visit to the Missouri River Project Office,” said Nunez. The feedback from Bryan and Norris middle schools was very positive he said. “We hope to partner again with the Missouri River Project Office and the Corps in the future.”

education EEO Hispanic Employment Council mentoring Missouri River Project Office STEM students