NATICK, Mass. (Dec. 14, 2015) -- The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command recognizes employees who go above and beyond in support of science, technology, engineering and mathematics educational outreach.

For its next honoree, RDECOM salutes Jill Bates.

"As long as I can remember, I've always enjoyed and loved science," Bates said. "I also enjoy and love food, eating food, cooking food…anything that has to do with food. So when I was trying to decide what I wanted to go to college for, I chose food and nutrition because it melded my love of science and food.

"It was a perfect combination of biology, chemistry and nutrition."

Bates has been a food technologist with the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center for 10 years.

She became interested in science at an early age.

"I first got interested in science in the fourth grade. My science teacher had a love of science and did a bunch of different experiments with us. That's when we did our first science fair," Bates said. "That's where I first became interested in science and knew I wanted to pursue a career in science."

She is in charge of the Sensory Evaluation Laboratory with NSRDEC's Combat Feeding Directorate. It didn't take her long to become interested in STEM outreach.

"I first got involved with STEM outreach when we had school groups coming for visits and [NSRDEC] had always wanted volunteers for tour guides," she said. "All kids love to eat and taste food, and my laboratory is always a stop on the agenda for any school group."

Bates said she enjoys working with young students and began reaching out to the community.

"I've done some local science-fair judging and career fairs to get the word out that there's different careers in the sciences that you would never know," she said. "I never knew that careers in food science, careers in nutrition, and taste testing or sensory evaluation even existed."

"Just to see their reaction when, for example, we'll give them cake samples, some of which are fresh cake and others that are 3 years old. And then to tell them that they just ate a 3-year-old cake and explain the packaging and the science."

Bates took on a new role this year as a virtual judge for the Army's eCYBERMISSION competition. eCYBERMISSION is a web-based STEM competition for sixth- through ninth-grade teams. She also volunteered as a counselor at the competitions national finals held in Hunt Valley, Maryland, and led a workshop with the students.

"You get to share your love of science, and it gives you an opportunity to become a teacher for a day," Bates said. "It definitely adds variety to our day-to-day activities, especially lab activities."

Bates said she is excited to be able to see when young student scientists contribute their skills and knowledge to food technology, such as the Meals Ready to Eat, known as the MRE.

"MREs have evolved even in the 10 years since I've been working in combat feeding," she said. "I can't imagine how much they'll evolve in the next ten years or more. The students that are participating in STEM activities now will be our future workforce."

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The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.