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Corps' team builds bridges with STEAM

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District
Published April 22, 2022
Vanessa Navarro and Thad Fukushiga, Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District, examine model bridges built by STEM and JROTC students at Stephen White Middle School, March 25, 2022, in Carson, California.

Photo By William John Reese | From left, West Point Cdt. Sgt. Vivian Tsai and John Greenheck, Vanessa Navarro and Thad Fukushiga, Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District, examine model bridges built by STEM and JROTC students at Stephen White Middle School, March 25, 2022, in Carson, California. A team of volunteers from the District participated in the military academy's “West Point Leadership Ethics and Diversity in STEM” event to bring awareness to science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

JROTC Cadet Col. Jessica MacDonald-Gonzalez, 17, commander of the James Monroe’s Viking Battalion and LA Unified School District all-city colonel, receives guidance from retired Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Arturo Ramos Martinez, a JROTC instructor who continues to serve his community, March 25, 2022, in Carson, California.

JROTC Cadet Col. Jessica MacDonald-Gonzalez, 17, commander of the James Monroe’s Viking Battalion and LA Unified School District all-city colonel, receives guidance from retired Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Arturo Ramos Martinez, a JROTC instructor who continues to serve his community, March 25, 2022, in Carson, California. Volunteers from the Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District participated in the U.S. Military Academy's “West Point Leadership Ethics and Diversity in STEM” event to bring awareness to science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

The Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District volunteers pose for a photo at Stephen White Middle School, March 25, 2022, in Carson, California.

The Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District volunteers pose for a photo at Stephen White Middle School, March 25, 2022, in Carson, California. The District team participated in the military academy's “West Point Leadership Ethics and Diversity in STEM” event to bring awareness to science, technology, engineering, arts and math. From left, Thad Fukushige; Frank Montelongo; Greg Gregorian; Frank Cano; Capt. Derek Schwartz; Vanessa Navaro; John Greenheck; and Yolanda Novak.

LOS ANGELES – Future Army officers were joined by a team from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District to bring awareness to science, technology, engineering, arts and math March 23 at Stephen White Middle School in Carson, California.

JROTC cadets from James Monroe and Washington Preparatory high schools, and younger students from the 186th Street Elementary School, learned about STEM – or STEAM, adding an A for the arts – and JROTC, while building model bridges tested by the Corps’ LA District team.

During the event “West Point Leadership Ethics and Diversity in STEM,” the students were led by cadets with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The Corps’ LA District’s participation was led by Capt. Derek Schwartz, deputy resident engineer with the Fort Irwin Resident Office. Schwartz is a West Point graduate.

“The LEADS workshop is really crucial for our students to be able to have opportunities to see cadets and learn about leadership skills, leadership qualities, ethics and honor,” said Marva Woods, principal at Stephen White Middle School. “It’s important to have these young people molding and guiding even younger people, so it’s a great opportunity for our students and elementary students, middle school and high school students to have these experiences with other individuals, aside from the school staff.”

JROTC cadets watched a message of encouragement from Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, 60th superintendent at West Point, before breaking into groups for outbreak sessions. The Corps’ challenge for students was to design and build a small model bridge to determine its load-bearing potential. Thad Fukushige with the LA District’s Construction Division, along with Vanessa Navarro, John Greenheck and Yolanda Novak from the LA District’s Regulatory Division, recorded measurements of the bridges and added weight until they reached their structural limits.

Additionally, District volunteers intern engineer Frank Montelongo; Greg Gregorian, chief of the District’s synchronization and initiatives group, and West Point grad; and Fernando Cano, project manager supervisor, assisted the West Point cadets with their student groups.

“During our bridge competition, our winning team constructed a K’NEX bridge that weighed just 80 grams, but was able to support 7.5 lbs.,” Schwartz said.

JROTC Cadet Col. Jessica MacDonald-Gonzalez, 17, commander of the James Monroe’s Viking Battalion, said she appreciated STEM support from the Corps and West Point.

MacDonald-Gonzalez serves as the LA Unified School District all-city colonel and applied for national four-year scholarships. She is considering the college she’ll attend to study psychology or cognitive science, and, ultimately, become a lawyer.

“As far as STEM goes, I feel like there are so many different opportunities,” she said. “It’s such a diverse area of work and study, that there’s always something for everyone in STEM, regardless of age or gender.

“Everyone has an opportunity to study something that they love, and I think that science, outside of humanities, should be explored a little bit more, because it provides so much more technology for the future of the students.”

JROTC is great for honing leadership skills and getting ready for the adult world, she added, noting she began the program at 13 years old as a “shy freshman.”

“When (JROTC cadets) enter the program, some of them are English learners and don’t know what they want to do,” MacDonald-Gonzalez said. “They just wanted to start an extra-curricular activity to figure out what they want to do, and they end up with fluent English and want to go to college. They have all of these resources, and they know what they want to be in the future. It’s really amazing because (the LA Unified School District) has some wonderful students.”

Events like West Point LEADS are investments in people and future generations, Schwartz said.

“Our greatest asset in the LA District is our people,” he said. “Events like West Point LEADs provide us an opportunity to invest in our next generation by fostering an appreciation for science, technology, engineering and math, and showcase the dedication and expertise of our people.”