ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (July 26, 2016) -- U.S. Army engineers guided high school students from Maryland and Delaware through advanced classroom instruction and hands-on experiments as part of the Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science, known as GEMS, program here July 11-22.
GEMS is a science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, summer program funded by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology and managed by the Army Educational Outreach Program Office. The program is designed to give students an immersive one-week lab experience focused on a specific STEM field.
U.S. Army Materiel Command's Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, engineers developed the curriculum for and led two one-week courses focusing on "Networks and Cybersecurity" the first week and "Renewable and Alternative Energy" the following.
"GEMS is a stepping stone, so if you look at the math and science program, it really is that gateway," said Erica Bertoli, CERDEC Educational Outreach Program lead. "Because we do a high school level curriculum it's designed to almost replicate college. [The students] are learning a ton of information in a very short period of time.
"It forces them to be a lot more collaborative with their teams. It also forces them to take ownership of their own experiences, so if they're not understanding they have to ask those questions, and it reinforces the idea that as you progress in school and then especially as you progress in fields like science and engineering you're responsible for your own success, you're responsible for your own knowledge, you're responsible for your own experience. We really build the GEMS programs around that idea so that the students have to be proactive in order to get anything out of it."
One of the GEMS subject matter experts was Cao Chung, chemical engineer with the CERDEC Command, Power and Integration Directorate. He worked closely with rising 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grade students during the week-long "Renewable and Alternative Energy" course.
"My hope is to keep them motivated, keep them interested in STEM -- science, technology, engineering, mathematics," Chung said. "One day I'm going to retire. Hopefully, they'll take over, and then hopefully I would have inspired one of these young kids to become innovative and carry on the work."
One of the popular workshops from the week taught students the importance of reusable energy, and how to harness it. Part of the workshop included having the students build their own solar-powered vehicles, and learn how their finished vehicles were powered from photons from the sun.
"I never knew that solar panels accounted for so much energy in the world," said Kenneth Sumpter Jr., a student at Havre de Grace High School who has also participated in other GEMS programs in the past.
This was Chung's third year volunteering with the GEMS program, and he has noticed the students have been entering the summer program much more prepared.
"This is the information age," Chung said. "They can get online and they can find out a lot more. These kids are bright. It seems like I'm just talking with them instead of teaching them. My main goal here is to keep their level of interest and maintain that. And hopefully motivate them more."
During the "Networks and Cybersecurity" course, students learned about various encryption methods, how to secure their online presence, and digital forensics.
"They were very engaged. All of the topics had an activity that followed it where they got to practice some of the things that they were seeing and discussing," said Joe Fetters, cybersecurity teacher at Harford Technical High School. "Everything from steganography where [the students] would extract other messages or hidden data within a picture file, to using things like cipher wheels to see how encryption takes place at a fundamental level. I thought the week was very useful for them and I think they were able to see the practical applications of what the presenters were talking about."
"I think it's excellent that the Army invests this much in reaching out to students in the community, and even beyond this community to involve them in these STEM areas," he said.
The U.S. Army Communications-Electronics 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.