ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- In order for the U.S. Army to remain successful in the future, it is essential to acquire and retain the best engineers and scientists. Part of that process includes providing internship opportunities for students.
To better equip incoming talent into the workforce, U.S. Army Material Command's Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center provides opportunities for college and university students studying in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
One of these opportunities is provided through the Pathways Internship Program, a federal program designed to provide high school to graduate level students paid opportunities to work in agencies and explore federal careers while in school. Students who successfully complete the program may be eligible for conversion to a permanent job in the civil service.
While students assigned to CERDEC are busy in their separate labs, it can be easy to lose focus on the overall Army mission. To help aid the Army's continuing developmental process, current CERDEC interns spent the day touring Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate labs at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, Sept. 28.
The tour gave the students an opportunity to get a first-hand look at the projects some of their peers have been working on, as well as develop additional professional contacts to better help interns perform duties that align with CERDEC's goals.
"It allows them to get an overall view of CERDEC's mission," said Stacey Lambert, CERDEC Management Workforce Development Support Branch management analyst. "Because they work for individual directorates they know what their directorate does, but they might not have a full understanding of where they fit into the bigger picture."
The September tour was the second made available to current interns; interns also had the opportunity to tour CERDEC labs here in August.
"The purpose is to attempt to keep scientists and engineers working for CERDEC," Lambert said, "because at some point, we know that a good portion of our work force is going to retire. We're bringing in college graduates who will come into an organization and be trained in how their organization operates, which gives them an opportunity to transition right after they make it to their journeymen level."
Current students in an accredited high school, college, trade school, advance degree programs, or other qualifying educational institution pursuing a qualifying degree or certificate are eligible to apply to the Pathways Internship Program. Hiring agencies may hire interns on a temporary basis for up to one year for an initial period, or for an indefinite period, to complete the educational requirement.
The work of all interns will be related to their academic career goals or field of study.
"It allows them to come in and really work and learn," Lambert said. "And we as an employer have an opportunity to develop our workforce for several years, and train them so that when they get to their GS-12 level they're ready to hit the ground moving and take over for their peers, their team leaders, and they're ready to move into leadership roles."
Interns may be converted to a permanent position within 120 days of successful completion of the program. To be eligible for conversion, interns must complete at least 640 hours of work experience acquired through the Pathways Internship Program, complete their degree or certificate requirements, meet the qualification standards for the position to which the intern will be converted, and have the ability to perform their job successfully.
"I'm currently studying industrial engineering," said Morgan Gardner, a Pennsylvania State University student who has been interning with CERDEC's Night Vision and Electronics Sensors Directorate since the beginning of summer. "For what I'm studying, it really looks like I want to come back full time. An internship here helped me get my feet wet, and it's really pushed me forward."
Another higher education resource opportunity offered to students is the Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation, or SMART, Scholarship for Service Program. Established by the Department of Defense, the scholarship program supports undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in STEM disciplines.
In addition to having their full tuition and education related fees paid for, students participating in the SMART program also receive a stipend paid at a rate of $25,000 to $38,000 depending on the degree they are pursuing, and more.
All interns from either program have the same access to all resources available to any full-time employee. They have opportunities to travel to complete their trainings, they can request repayment for student loans, and they can seek advance degrees that may be offered to them.
However, there is one difference between the two higher learning resources.
"Once the student has been accepted through the Pathways Internship Program, the interns are here for as long as they want to be, provided they meet the standards set by the program" Lambert said. "But our SMART students do have to fulfill a service commitment. So the number of years that DOD paid for their education, they have to give that amount of time back to their organization. It's like ROTC for civilians."
Both internship programs present a great opportunity for the potential future members of the CERDEC team. Internship programs are a vehicle where young engineers can gain valuable real-world experience and explore their technical interests.
"CERDEC is continuing to put an emphasis on succession management, focusing on finding the right opportunities for recent grads and promoting people from within CERDEC," said John Willison, CERDEC Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate director and leads CERDEC's succession management efforts. "CERDEC is working on laying out the road maps for our interns, recent grads and employees in order to make career growth available."
One of CERDEC's recent internship graduates includes Lauren Marzocca. At 18 years old, Marzocca started her first internship program after her freshman year of college.
"With very limited experience, I was able to surround myself with hands-on work that I would continue in my full-time position," she said. "For three years before I started in my permanent position, I was able to enhance my technical skills, build relationships, and gain experience writing and presenting in professional environments. All of these things made the transition to my current role much smoother."
Marzocca is currently a chemical engineer in the Tactical Power Branch of CERDEC's Command, Power and Integration, or CP&I, Directorate's Power Division. She is also part of the Soldier Power Development Team, and is serving in a temporary developmental assignment as the executive officer for the CP&I director.
"I would encourage all interns and new employees to take every opportunity presented," Marzocca said. "The more experiences you can collect, the more prepared and well-rounded you will be, whether or not you wind up working for the government long-term. There is no better time than early in your career to explore."
For more information about either the Pathways Internship or the SMART Scholarship for Service programs, visit www.cerdec.army.mil/student_programs/higher_education_resources.
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 provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the Joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.