Commander Beckman: Economic growth here ‘collateral’ with ERDC’s success

Published 3:32 pm Tuesday, December 25, 2018

In his 29 years in the U.S. Army, Ivan Beckman has been deployed to many areas.

A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he has held positions in North Carolina, Colorado and had multiple tours of duty in Korea.

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But he wanted to come to one place in Mississippi.

“I wanted to come to Vicksburg,” Col. Beckman said. “I really wanted to come work in the Mississippi Valley Division Corps of Engineers, (but) the job wasn’t available. The job that was available was the Mississippi National Guard inspector general so I was the IG for the Mississippi National Guard for two years. The Mississippi National Guard has fantastic people. I was amazed at the commitment and the fantastic service of our Mississippi National Guardsmen.”

Five months ago, he moved to another command position, stepping into an Army engineer’s dream — taking the reins of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center.

“I was absolutely delighted,” he said of the assignment, pointing out that ERDC employs 2,100 people, including 600 who hold Ph.Ds. “I’m very excited to work with the outstanding employees of ERDC. I am amazed with their dedication, their commitment, enthusiasm and their service to the Army, their nation and ERDC.

“We are a world-class research and development organization that develops and delivers innovative solutions to the toughest engineering challenges that make the world safer and better every day.

ERDC is very diverse in our mission, from coastal hydraulics, to geotechnical structure, environmental, high speed computers. We have some fantastic researchers here.”

The importance of ERDC’s work is something not lost on local officials, who want to make ERDC a centerpiece and a partner in area economic development efforts to attract high tech companies and jobs to Vicksburg and Warren County — something ERDC officials are interested in.

“I’m pretty excited, and want to sustain and improve and reignite the very strong partnership between ERDC and the city and Warren County,” Beckman said, adding he has talked with Mayor George Flaggs Jr. and recently addressed the city’s department heads.

“We don’t have a direct mission at ERDC to promote economic growth,” he said.

“However, economic growth, I believe, is a collateral development that comes along with our success; it’s a spiral that our success at ERDC spirals into the community development, education, outreach, and economic development, and that spirals back into ERDC into our success, because when our community is successful, ERDC is successful.

“ERDC is a very proud partner to the city of Vicksburg and Warren County. We’re the largest employer in Warren County and number 22 throughout Mississippi. What’s best for the community is good for the community, and I believe the success of ERDC is good for the community.”

One process for increasing the partnership between ERDC and the community is a program began by Beckman’s predecessor, Col. Bryan Green, to open the ERDC campus more to the public.

“I share the vision of the director for public outreach,” Beckman said. “We just have to do things that make good sense; that pass legal scrutiny, and are beneficial to ERDC.”

“We had the Mad Scientist run in September, and proceeds from that run went to fund STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) scholarships. Most recently we had our Christmas tree lighting and that was a very fun time for us all. I was happy to see Mayor Flaggs here and Alderman Alex Monsour here.

“Recently, we opened our gates to ERDC under lights. We accepted donations of canned goods and food from anyone willing to come through. We delivered all those canned goods to the Vicksburg food pantry. It was very overwhelming with how much support the local community gave back. It’s really from the local community through ERDC, but giving back to the local community.”

But opening the campus is not the facility’s only outreach program, Beckman said, adding ERDC has a 3-year-old Alumni Association with 64 members and other organizations that volunteer time.

“What our volunteers do is just amazing,” he said.

“Last year, 177 ERDC employees volunteered 12,000 hours especially to STEM-related activities. We’ve got 14 robotics teams, supporting 150 students we have about 650 students come through our STEM camps. We really take advantage of any kind of opportunity, any kind of program that we have to partner with the schools to be partners with the community.

“We have the coding academy here now, and we’re very happy to host that. We are one of three coding academies in Mississippi — Columbus, Jackson and Vicksburg.

“Vicksburg’s is hosted by Hinds Community College, but we’re close partners with them on the coding academy, and the drones program. We’re working with the city of Vicksburg, Hinds Community College and Warren county schools, trying to figure out how we can partner effectively for educational opportunities.

“I would love for more partnerships with the schools. Again, we would have to make sure what we’re doing is legally sufficient and beneficial to ERDC that are also beneficial to the community. I believe we can find great ways to partner.”

Considering ERDC’s future, Beckman said he sees a growth opportunity in several STEM-related fields.

“I see robotics, drones, robotic vehicles, in air land, underwater, computer programming, digital coding, geospatial data collection. At ERDC, we have some programs that are combining all those together into useful technologies that benefit the Department of Defense.”

He also sees some crossover from ERDC into the civilian arena, especially with drones and robotics. “I really see that as a huge growth opportunity for us here, and I think Vicksburg and Warren County can really benefit from those types of programs,” he said.

And he would like to see more partnerships between the city and ERDC.

“I’d like to know any big ideas the city has for partnering or things we can do at ERDC that will be beneficial to the city,” Beckman said. “We have some ideas, but they might not be effective unless truly needed. I’m always anxious to know how we can be a better partner.

Beckman said he is now settled in his position, adding, “I absolutely love what I do. I absolutely love this job. I’m having a lot of fun here, I want to do my best in this job.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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