PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- Turning their tassels, four Picatinny Arsenal employees graduated from the Arsenal's Armament Graduate School on Sept. 1 at the Cannon Gate Catering Center.

The graduating Class of 2016 were Aaron Michael Benfante, Robin Crownover, Gregory J. Roehrich, and Lt. Col. O'Neal A. Williams Jr.

The Armament Graduate School, or AGS, is an educational program within the Armament University. The university was developed by Picatinny's largest tenant, the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center or ARDEC, which announced the AGS program in 2013 and graduated the first class in September 2015.

Following a graduate-level curriculum, AGS aims to develop the next generation of armament engineers.

In this curriculum, students concentrate on a combination of chemical, electrical and mechanical engineering disciplines and review rigorous subjects such as statistics, applied mathematics, material science and the scientific method.

EXPERIENCED FACULTY

The program's faculty includes about 55 Picatinny employees, many of which have doctorate degrees, have received patents, and have been published in technical journals.

The school's chancellor is Donald Carlucci, a senior research scientist in computational structural modeling. The provost is Kenneth Short, research scientist in neuroscience and experimental psychology.

"The way that [ARDEC] helps to defend our nation is by making our scientists and engineers the best. It's another way we don't allow the enemy to have a fair fight," said ARDEC Director John F. Hedderich before turning to the graduates. "You're so brilliant and well-trained, that you invent things that the enemy could never even think of."

The event's keynote speaker was the Deputy Program Executive Officer Ammunition, and Senior Commander of Picatinny Arsenal, Brig. Gen. Patrick W. Burden. Burden explained that the graduates not only demonstrate Picatinny's strong, educated workforce, but are examples of discipline and resilience, two of the foundations of Army leaders.

"If I can leave you with some words of wisdom today, I ask that you always remember this moment and remind yourself: you are a force to be reckoned with," Burden told the graduates. "Never lose that drive that you've shown here through your course work at the Armament Graduate School, and never let your curiosity to know more, and be more, disappear.

"Picatinny wants leaders like you. We thrive with leaders like you within the Army and also within our society. On behalf of everyone from the Picatinny community, we are so thankful to have you as our teammates and for reminding us that hard work and perseverance pay off."

According to AGS's website, classes are offered every fall, spring, and summer. Most classes meet for 10 three-hour sessions throughout the semester.

With the exception of the seminar and orientation, each course equals three credits.

To earn a doctorate degree, students must earn 60 credits, plus a 30-credit capstone project or dissertation. To earn a master's degree, students are required take five core classes and five electives. Often, students are provided eight to 12 hours of homework per week, per course.

"The hardest aspect was getting your mind to engage in a highly technical way after being out of the school environment for 20 years," said Williams, Product Manager GATOR LandMine Replacement. "The first semester was rough. I took two classes and only slept about two hours--just to ensure that homework was complete as well as concepts were understood.

"The best aspect of the class was the instructors," Williams added. "They were demanding, but fair they were also very helpful. They made themselves available all throughout the week for one-on-one assistance. That in itself was invaluable. That alone made me want to work harder for them and succeed.

"Every class I enrolled in I used that knowledge the next day or the next week in a meeting, engagement with industry partners, or added to a technical discussion," Williams continued.

"In addition, Dr. Florio and Dr. Fischer were phenomenal professors. Their patience, passion, dedication, unbelievable knowledge, and wanting students to succeed, made me want to work that much harder to make them proud."

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The U.S. Army Armament 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.