RDECOM leaders inspire East LA students
April 19, 2010
- RDECOM leaders address 100 Garfield High School students
- Viva Technology Program is part of Great Minds in STEM
- For students, parents at under-represented schools
- Program AIMS to educate inner-city with needed technologists
LOS ANGELES -- Delivering messages of personal triumph and the fulfillment of serving their country, two U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command leaders inspired more than 100 James A. Garfield High School students here today, encouraging them to stay in school, to do well and to consider becoming U.S. Army scientists or engineers.
It was also a somber day at Garfield High, as an afternoon memorial service was held for long-time calculus teacher Jaime Escalante, a Bolivian-born educator who served as inspiration for the movie "Stand and Deliver." Actor Edward J. Olmos portrayed Escalante in the movie and attended the service, as did many state and local community leaders.
The U.S. Army-sponsored Viva Technology Student Day engaged students in a team engineering project with prizes for the winners. The project was to design and build a structure capable of withstanding a mild earthquake.
The Viva Technology Program is the education arm of the national non-profit organization Great Minds in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Command Sgt. Maj. Hector Marin, RDECOM senior enlisted advisor, is a national role model for Great Minds in STEM. In the school's small gymnasium, he began by talking about his early childhood, growing up in Honduras and coming to America at age 10, unable to speak a word of English.
"Talk about challenges," Marin said. "I was scared to death of going to school. But I quickly realized the only way to improve myself was to study hard and do well."
He said his decision to join the Army was "to serve a greater good, to be part of something larger than myself." The students and their advisors sat at their tables, listening intently to every word.
Marin's presentation included video clips of innovative Army research and development projects -- robotics, exoskeletons, see-through-wall technology, and training simulations, even a dancing avatar, Sgt. Star.
"You never know when someone or something will spark a student and inspire them to pursue a course of action that will eventually drive their career," Marin said in an earlier interview. "That's what this is program is all about and why it is so important."
The night prior, Lt. Col. Joe Garcia, RDECOM operations officer, addressed the students' parents. He told them about growing up in New Mexico and how he had never considered a career in the Army. About 80 parents and several students listened as Garcia talked about being part of the Army team.
"When I chose the Army, I became a member of a team, and that was very important to me," Garcia said. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think about becoming an Army officer. But when a sergeant who I will never forget pointed out all the educational opportunities available to me, my life took on purpose and direction."
Two members of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command also took part in Student Day.
"We're not here as recruiters today," said Staff Sgts. Robert Arreola and Max Cerna of the Los Angeles Recruiting Battalion. "We're here to answer any questions about the Army the students may have."
There were lots of questions, too. Students asked about enlistment requirements, tour lengths, and how they might pursue a career in Army aviation, which was Marin's career path.
Ray Mellado, chairman, chief executive officer and founder of Great Minds in STEM, was also in attendance.
"HENAAC (Hispanic Engineer National Annual Awards Conference) was the original name of the company," Mellado said, explaining how Great Minds in STEM had evolved. "After looking at the statistics, the number of Hispanics enrolled in engineering programs at the university level was so small, we knew we had to start making an impact."
Mellado founded HENAAC in 1989 while working for Xerox Corporation. "I was a national sales manager and this was my community involvement project," he said.
The Viva Technology Program is part of the organization's education division that was established in 1993.
"We still do the conference (HENAAC) for the recognition, recruitment and scholarships that are Hispanic focused. The education programs are for everybody," Mellado explained.
"The logic model we developed is called AIMS -- awareness, inspiration, motivation and skills," he said. "Skills are the classroom work, the math and science and engineering education that goes all the way through college. But we have to have the first three elements first.
"The Viva Technology Program is really focused on opening the child's, the parent's, the teacher's eyes to careers in engineering and science. We follow them all the way, with scholarships and ROTC programs and other forms of assistance.
"We have to have them first, then we start directing them there," Mellado explained.
"These kids are our future. Our inner city community has to be prepared technically in the math and science areas, in technology. Our goal is to get our kids ready to do that."
Garfield students were excited to be involved in a hands-on design and building project that simulated the real work of engineers. Viva Technology graduates, most now university engineering students, worked with the high schoolers, near-peer role models and sharing their experiences as college students.
"You can see the excitement in their eyes when you look around the room," Marin said. "There's a lot of energy and enthusiasm just knowing there are opportunities for you.
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