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Students see troopers put science, math skills to use

Two students held opposite ends of a tape measure against the asphalt, pulling it tightly against the skid mark on the roadway.

Xavier Green, 18, yelled out the measurement: “52 feet 5 inches.”

Next, 14-year-old Jackson Allen pulled a drag sled – a weight attached to a piece of a tire – against the road. A quick equation allows him to determine the coefficient of friction between the tire and the roadway: 0.81.

Plugging these two numbers into an equation, the group of about 12 students is able to figure out how fast the car had been going: 36 mph.

“I didn’t think (law enforcement) had to do so much math,” 15-year-old Chase Perry said. “I didn’t think Newton’s Law was that important. We’re not just learning it just because, we’re learning it to use in the future.”

Perry was among a group of Evergreen High School students in Vancouver who visited the Washington State Patrol on Friday to learn the ins and outs of the job that goes along with wearing a badge and carrying a gun.

“It’s neat to see what they do and why they do it,” Perry said. “It’s eye-opening.”

The excursion was part of STEM Fest, a series of events held throughout Vancouver on Friday and Saturday to promote education and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council coordinated the event with 50 businesses and organizations.

“If I tell students they can use math and science later in life, they don’t understand or they don’t listen,” teacher Brian Beecher said. “But when they see how they can apply it in a career, it’s more important. It’s also coming from a different person, so it has a different impact.”

Detective Sgt. Rob Brusseau, who heads the local criminal investigation division for the Washington State Patrol, said he didn’t know about the technologies and sciences used in the job until he entered the police academy.

Until that point, he said, he thought collision investigations were based on what people saw and how the cars landed.

In reality, he said, “Most collisions are traumatic for both parties, so eyewitnesses’ statements are often skewed.”