They asked questions worthy of future scientists, engineers and mathematicians. And why not' Some might be just that.

The occasion was the 13th annual visit of the Natick Soldier Systems Center and Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center by seventh-graders from the Wilson Middle School in Natick. Made possible by Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education, and Women in Science and Engineering, the tour took place Nov. 23.

"We're going to make today a special day for you," said Tina Howard, a food technologist, as she welcomed the 229 Wilson students. "We want you to see how excited we are about science and technology, and how science and technology can support, nourish, protect and improve the performance of the war fighter."

Sue Butler, acting director of NSRDEC, told the students that science is "hard, but it is also fun. We are the science behind what the Soldier wears, carries and consumes."

Butler said that the students already use technology in their everyday lives.

"When you're a technology adopter, by default, you're already in what science and engineering and technology's all about," Butler said. "And there are so many careers that you can go into with that. There's just so many opportunities for you."

Butler pointed out that of the 4 million fourth-graders in the U.S. in 2001, only 167,000 currently were studying science, technology, engineering or math.

"So there's a lot of room for all of you to join the science, technology, engineering and mathematics career field and make a difference for this country and for your own lives," Butler said. "We do a lot of really cool things, and I think by the end of the day, a lot of you are going to be really fascinated with it."

After he handed coins of excellence to their teachers and urged the students to give him one loud "Hooah!" after another, Command Sgt. Maj. Earl Allen, garrison command sergeant major, sent them all out to explore the installation in groups with the help of 85-plus employee volunteers.

"It's very important that you understand what (people) do here at Natick," Allen said. "Take advantage of the day."

At the Footwear Lab, Mike Holthe showed the youngsters a variety of boots.

"You guys know what it's like when your feet hurt or your feet are cold' Everything's pretty miserable, right'" Holthe said. "We try to keep people comfortable, try to help them do their job."

Holthe told students that he and a co-worker had gone to school to study biomechanics.

"It's the idea of taking the principles of engineering and applying them to human movement," Holthe explained. "How many of you guys like sports' How many of you guys like math and science'

"You get to work with a lot of athletes. You get to work with a lot of Soldiers."

At the Thermal Test Facility, Peggy Auerbach talked to students about the important work done there and then offered an impressive demonstration.

"We're going to light that mannequin on fire," said Auerbach before a 4-second, full-garment burn.
"Whoo!" responded students as the burn began.

At various stops throughout the visit, students asked a number of intelligent questions.

"I think it's a great thing," said Robert Klepper, a Wilson substitute teacher, of the tour. "I have two kids (who) went through this, and they're a senior and a sophomore in high school. They appreciate it more now, because they're older and they understand what's going on."

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