It's mid-summer, and groups of seventh and eighth grade students sitting at picnic tables are gathered around Sgt. 1st Class Eric E. Scheidt at Maryland's Harford Glen Environmental Center. With their hands raised, the students are eagerly awaiting their turn to answer Scheidt's question, "If you could create a new technology, what would it be'"

To answer this question, where would you draw inspiration from: a movie, your career, a similar technology' While some of the students thought of pop-culture, replying with "flying cars" and "time machines," other ideas sought to better the world around them like technologies that would "automatically plant trees" or "turn trash into energy."

Encouraging students at a young age to further their education in science, technology, engineering and math in order to better their community is what the Research, Development and Engineering Command's Communications-Electronics Center math and science summer camps aim to do, according to Scheidt, a Non-Commissioned Officer for CERDEC.

"This is truly the wave of the future. The reason I serve is not for me: it's for my kids and the kids afterwards," Scheidt said. "When we talk to kids about being engineers and being scientists, it's about what they can do to better the environment in the U.S. and to better our world. And you see some of the kids that truly want to make a difference, and that's exciting."

Scheidt joined the Baltimore and Harford county students for three, week-long camps that utilized hands-on learning and a classroom-like environment to further explore engineering, robotics or flight and rocketry.

Noah Johnston, a student at Baltimore's Pine Grove Middle School, believes the experience of learning about robotics in the seventh and eighth grade camps could have a future benefit to deployed Soldiers.

"You might be inspired later on to make small-scale robots to help people at war," Noah said.

Incorporating a uniformed Soldier like Scheidt to work with the students was no accident, either. Erica Bertoli, CERDEC Outreach program manager, believes that exciting students about math and science means educating them on what it means to be an engineer or scientist for one of the armed services.

"One of our goals, not just for our camps but for all of the CERDEC outreach programs, is not only to excite the kids about STEM but really to show them that putting on a uniform isn't the only way to serve our country; that our civilian engineering force is essential to our mission success for the Soldiers overseas- for the safety of our nation," Bertoli said.

Another goal, Bertoli said, was to illustrate the utility of what the camp participants were learning. This was accomplished, in part, by the field trips the students attended. In both the robotics and flight and rocketry camps, students visited the National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, VA. The ninth and tenth graders, whose curriculum focused on engineering, visited the Army Corps of Engineers at Aberdeen Proving Ground for an on-site facility tour of a chemical laboratory construction zone.

"I think it's important for the kids to be exposed to the multiple engineering disciplines. It gives them exposure to the mission of the Army should they choose to be future employees of the government," said Keith Barkey, civil engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers. "These students are potential future Army employees who may choose a career in engineering and other technical professions."

Because this is only the second year the summer camps have been held in Maryland, being able to collaborate with the nearby Army community, like the Army Corps of Engineers, is crucial to Bertoli's hopes of encouraging student interest in STEM.

"CERDEC outreach has been working hard to collaborate and coordinate with the other outreach partners that are at APG, both RDECOM elements and Garrison, to really make a combined outreach force that will serve the entire community and represent all of APG," Bertoli said.

CERDEC also reached out to the surrounding community to find local educators to teach the curriculum.

Mark Evans, a math teacher from the Science and Math Academy at Aberdeen High, taught the robotics and engineering curricula, but was surprised by the positive reaction of students to learn science in the summer.

"I think they've been engaged; they've been really interested. I am surprised that you get a group of kids here in the middle of summer and they're excited to work on this stuff," Evans said.

For Scheidt, the students' excitement for the curriculum is no surprise, not only because of the hands-on coursework but also because of Evans himself.

"I think if I had had him [Mark Evans] as a teacher, I would have enjoyed math a lot more," Scheidt said. "When you go through a normal school year, everybody's being taught all this stuff but they don't get a lot of time to play and actually enjoy the subject. Everyone's here for the same reason, they all want to learn."

For some seventh and eighth grade students, the excitement of building their own robots using Lego Mind Storm hardware and programming may draw them back to the camps next year or even inspire them to spend more of their summer with STEM.

One North Harford Middle School student, Amy Hyman, has already inquired with her parents about purchasing the Mind Storm program to use in her free time.

"I've never really done anything like this with robotics. So, it's new for me, but I really like it," said Amy.

Like Scheidt and Bertoli, Amy believes that learning science early-on will ultimately be beneficial to the future.

"If everyone gets interested at a younger age, there are going to be a lot more engineers, so it will be a lot better for inventions," Amy said.

While the Maryland summer camps come to a close, July 16, the opportunity to use STEM to help solve problems in your local community is still available. <a href=" " target="_blank">eCYBERMISSION</a>
registration for students, Team Advisors, Ambassadors, CyberGuides and Virtual Judges opens August 1, 2010!

eCYBERMISSION is a free, web-based science, technology, engineering and math competition for students in grades six through nine.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16