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STEM internship opens a world of possibilities for high school student

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) intern
Published May 28, 2013
Hannah Blankenship, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) intern.

Hannah Blankenship, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) intern.

How could the Army Corps of Engineers be such a widespread and dynamic government entity that is involved in so many aspects of people’s lives but not even be in the vocabulary of the average high school student?  Well, I am not going to answer that question, but I will say that all of the people I come in contact with are now very familiar with the Corps of Engineers.  My experience at the Corps has definitely changed any future career plans that I could have conceived for myself. 

As a student entering high school, I obviously began the daunting task of identifying my interests and what college degree would be the best fit.  For two and a half years it worried me that I could not narrow down and pinpoint what I wanted to study in college.  Finally, at the end of my junior year after taking an environmental science class, environmental engineering popped into my head.  I decided to pursue these interests but was unsure of how to go about confirming that my sudden inspiration to join the field of engineers was true.

In my senior year, I jumped at an opportunity to be accepted for a student volunteer internship at the Corps.  This was what I was searching for and it suddenly became a reality.  Once I started my internship in January, I realized how completely unaware of the Corps’ scope and magnitude I was; but even in this overwhelming, new environment I felt at home.  It was the perfect place to hone in on my interests, and I was immediately greeted by the friendly, laid back atmosphere of the office.  Instantly I was introduced to many of the civil aspects of the Corps and was almost bombarded with new, intriguing opportunities to seize.

Soon I became immersed in the workings of Operations Division and felt like a part of the team.  I thoroughly enjoyed all the opportunities I was presented with and everybody that I had the chance to encounter.  All of my expectations were exceeded, and I have learned so much more than I could have imagined.  First of all, I have become accustomed to the NEPA process and the various branches and divisions that are involved in that process; after visiting Hydraulics and Hydrology on many occasions, I have some experience in the tedious task of forecasting lake and reservoir levels; I am familiar with determining when a 404 permit is needed; I can now explain the different types of engineering contracts and the many steps in creating a quality design package; and now I am confident in educating those around me of multifarious branches and divisions of the Corps and several of the civil projects that they engage in.  Exposure to so many different areas of the Corps has allowed me to get a better scope of the vastness of the entity and availability of so many opportunities in the future.

Even though my volunteer internship was only about five months, my future has undeniably been changed.  Through my various explorations I have found new fascinations that I would like to pursue.  It never crossed my mind that I would find the workings of a water turbine so fascinating or the inspection of a lake office for environmental compliance so intriguing.  My parents must be tired of me coming home each day to tell them about what I did at my internship.  Sometimes it is not a very exciting day, but I sure make it sound appealing with all my impressive new jargon.

I could safely say that I have found many niches that I would fit in.  Without my experience at the Corps and the multitude of people that took an interest in me, I would have never felt so sure about my future.  All in all, I feel that the Corps could be my home for a long time.