ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. --
Eight-year-old Douglas McGregor may one day design something to improve the lives of future generations or oversee important test programs at Arnold Air Force Base.
While he is interested in architecture, structural engineering and marine biology, McGregor has plenty of time to consider his options and decide whether a career in science, technology engineering and math, commonly referred to as STEM, is the best course of action. Of more immediate concern for McGregor on the afternoon of Feb. 24 was placing onto suspended metal washers as many magnetic blocks as possible within a 5-minute time limit.
The magnets presented a different means, but building is nothing new for McGregor.
“I build with Legos. I build structures with paper that can hold up stuff. I build stuff with cardboard. I build stuff with a bunch of things, like scrap things, that we don’t need anymore. Instead of throwing them out, I use them to build stuff that can hold up stuff,” he said. “It’s fun.”
McGregor was among the children and adults who took part in one of several Air Force STEM-sponsored events held at the Hands-On Science Center in Tullahoma to coincide with National Engineers Week.
Also known as EWeek, National Engineers Week kicked off this year on Feb. 19 and ran through Feb. 25.
The annual celebration of engineers was established in 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers. According to that organization’s website, EWeek was started to raise awareness of engineers’ contributions to quality of life and to promote the importance of a technical education and a high level of math, science and technology literacy to parents, teachers and students. The goal is to motivate youth to pursue engineering and technology careers.
The theme for EWeek 2023 was “Creating the Future.” The NSPE encouraged folks to celebrate amazing engineers and inspire the next generation.
A series of Air Force STEM-sponsored functions befitting this theme took place at the HOSC throughout EWeek. The celebration began on the afternoon of Feb. 19 with a family egg drop competition in which contestants attempted to build a structure around an egg to prevent it from cracking when dropped. On the morning of Feb. 24, festivities continued with the Tiny Engineers Fun Build for children 6 years of age and younger. Things got a little more serious that afternoon with the magnetic building contest for children ages 6 to 12. This was followed by a build contest for participants 13 years of age and older.
To put a bow on EWeek, on the morning of Feb. 25, the HOSC staff hosted a family competition to see who could build the tallest tower using toothpicks and marshmallows. That afternoon, a contest was held to determine the fastest block stackers and, later, attendees worked together to build the largest structure possible from pop tubes, which are extendable, bendable and connectable plastic tube-shaped toys.
Julia Burgett, Air Force STEM coordinator for Arnold AFB, said the events gave participants a chance to partake in fun engineering activities with the aim of piquing their interest in STEM.
“They get to expand their mind,” she said. “They get to see all the different possibilities that are available for STEM…They can just use their brains in ways they didn’t think they could.”
Six-year-old Sophia Lannom took home the title in the children’s building contest. Like McGregor, Lannom enjoys building things in her free time. In particular, she likes to construct pyramids from wooden blocks.
“I had a great time,” she said after finishing her round. “I’m still going to stay here all day.”
A talent for building may run in Lannom’s family. Her father, Josh Manley, won the portion of the contest for participants aged 13 and up.
Burgett said she wants to further grow the Air Force STEM program, adding the Reach for the Stars rocket launch competition to be held in May should present another opportunity to show children the fun side of STEM.
“It’s a huge event, so I’m really excited about that one coming up,” she said.