Army program gives students hands-on engineering experience
July 28, 2014
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ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Local high school students worked beside Army engineers and scientists in their labs as part of a new science, technology, engineering and math -- STEM -- program here July 7-18.
The APG Real-world Internships in Science & Engineering Program is a partnership between the Research, Development and Engineering Command's communications-electronics center -- CERDEC -- and the Communications-Electronics Command that provides a two-week, in-lab experience for rising eleventh-grade students interested in pursuing STEM fields who might otherwise lack inroads.
"The RISE students are an untapped resource in our national need for a growing science and engineering workforce. They have an interest in STEM but haven't had the chance to really pursue it. Having built careers in science and technology, it's our responsibility to show the next generation the possibilities and benefits a career in STEM can provide," said Robert Zanzalari, CERDEC deputy director.
The idea for RISE came from discussions with the local STEM forum on how to grow APG's STEM outreach even further, said Gary Martin, CECOM deputy commander.
"One of the missing components that we found in our discussion was that we have plenty of opportunity for kids to go to robotics camp, and STEM summer math camps and a lot of science and interaction that way. But there really wasn't an opportunity for a real-life intern opportunity," said Martin.
Students were selected for the program by the educators and counselors in their schools based on aptitude and interest. They were assigned to working labs where they were mentored by professional Army engineers and scientists on results oriented, real-world assignments supporting the lab's mission.
They were awarded a stipend for their time through Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education in partnership with the Department of Energy.
This year's pilot for the program was supported by CECOM's Software Engineering Center and CERDEC's Command, Power and Integration Directorate -- CP&I -- labs. Students worked in the areas of cyber security and software development; battlefield video simulation; data sharing; information assurance; position, navigation and timing; mission command; power and virtual prototyping.
"I wish this existed when I was going to school. I can picture myself in their shoes, I was good at math, I liked math and science -- I had no idea what engineering was at all," said Adam Schofield, mentor in the CP&I Position, Navigation and Timing Branch. "That's why I really like doing these kinds of programs, because math and science and the whole STEM field are important. We need to educate the next generation of scientists and engineers. But we also just need to show younger kids what engineering is."
"That's what programs like this aim to do. Show the application of the physics, and the math, and the stuff that they are learning in high school - application through real-world problem solving," said Joseph Stevanak, mentor in the CP&I Position, Navigation and Timing Branch.
While each student was assigned to their own mentor and lab, they also received a tour of the areas their peers were working in to get a feel for the various engineering careers they could pursue.
"Something that surprised me about working with the engineers is how passionate they are about what they do and what kind of stuff they actually work on and how hard it is. Not many people get to see what goes on in their areas," said Adis, student from Joppatowne High School. "Working in that lab situation got me more interested in the whole cyber field because there are a lot of cool things that go on that you don't normally see."
For many of the mentors, this was the first time they had high school interns working in the labs, which they agreed provided a unique perspective to their work.
"It forces you to look at things a little different, maybe a little simpler and find ways to explain something simpler to other people, which can actually help me in my job too and I enjoy doing it," said Terry DuBois, mentor from the CP&I Power Division.
Students also attended a four-part leadership series designed to help them identify and develop the relevant professional skills to complement the technical skills they learned in the labs.
"I'm hoping to get more life experience. Understand the workplace and better understand how I'm going to fit into the world. With whatever I do really. That way I can figure out what I need to get done and where I want to go," said Dilan, student from Edgewood High School.
At the end of the two weeks students presented what they learned to APG leadership, their peers and family members.
"I've heard a lot about what engineering is like, but this is the first time I've actually gotten real experience in what engineering really, truly, is. I feel like that's the most rewarding thing I got out of this program," said Shelby, student from Joppatowne High School.
Next year Martin hopes to expand the RISE program to include more organizations at APG as well as more students from local high schools.
"I think it's important for any organization, company or government entity that has a mission in the area of STEM to reach out to the local communities and try to encourage kids to get into these fields," he said.
CERDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.
RDECOM and CECOM are major subordinate commands of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.