NATICK, Mass. -- Sometimes you need to plant seeds for growth in STEM careers.

That's the idea behind the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center's 11th annual Future Workforce Poster Presentation. The event is an important part of NSRDEC's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, outreach and NSRDEC's future workforce initiative.

The Future Workforce Poster Presentation showcases NSRDEC's science and technology excellence and provides students the chance to gain invaluable presentation and public-speaking skills while recounting their learning/working experiences at NSRDEC.

NSRDEC's Human Resources Team hosted the event, which featured a total of 17 presentations by students from the Pathways program, student volunteers and students from the University of Massachusetts Lowell's Harnessing Emerging Research Opportunities to Empower Soldiers, or HEROES, program.

During their time at NSRDEC, students learn about careers developing products, solutions and technologies for the warfighter and benefit from interaction with NSRDEC's renowned scientists and engineers.

The event was coordinated by Duane Young, NSRDEC training coordinator from human resources.

"The student poster presentation is an annual event that allows our students to showcase the project or projects that they have been working on during their time here at NSRDEC," said Young. "It allows our workforce to meet and interact with the students and engage with them on their topics. This event also allows the students to see what their fellow colleagues have been working on while here, as well. We have students ranging from freshman year up through graduate-level work, so there is a wide range of talent and varying levels of technical expertise. It's amazing the work that they do and for them to know and understand that these projects aren't just for a science fair, that what they are doing could have a huge impact on our warfighters, is very impressive."

Students found the experience invaluable and the work meaningful.

Laura Auerbach, who is a student at Worcester Polytech Institute, works in NSRDEC's Aerial Delivery Directorate on the Aerial Delivery Engineering Support Team, or ADEST. Her team leader is Bill Ricci and her mentor is Aubrey Greenwald. Auerbach inspected personnel parachute items to ensure they met visual, dimensional and constructional requirements.

"I enjoyed having the opportunity to work alongside professionals in my field and be involved in meaningful projects that benefit those who are serving our country," said Auerbach. "It is very rewarding to do work that helps to keep Soldiers safe. ADEST inspects life supportive equipment and knowing that I am contributing to ensuring the safety and quality of these items adds another level of importance and commitment to my work."

Ryan Darnley, who attends Worcester Polytechnic Institute and is double-majoring in mechanical engineering and electrical engineering, worked on the Food Sanitation Center III as well as other pieces of equipment. Darnley works for Joe Jordan in NSRDEC's Combat Feeding Directorate on the Food Service Equipment Team.

"NSRDEC provided me with a lot of different kinds of projects," said Darnley. "This greatly helped me broaden my knowledge of not only the equipment, but engineering as a whole. Knowing that my work helps the Soldier is a very rewarding feeling. Every job has its own merit and means of making the world a better place; however, performing work that can help the life of a Soldier is something that I personally find very appealing."

Emma Ratigan is a chemistry and computer science double major at Boston College. She assisted with the Jungle Fabric and Architecture Development Effort, or JFADE, to help develop a uniform for hot and wet environments. She works with the Textile Materials Evaluation Team in the Warfighter Directorate. Her team leader is Laurra Winters and she's been working with Melynda Perry on JFADE.

"I love having the opportunity to be part of both a team and a larger community that are so passionate and dedicated to the work that they do," said Ratigan. "It is very fulfilling to know that the work I am doing is impacting the Soldier on a daily basis."

Andrew Connors is attending University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and is majoring in mechanical engineering. He started working at NSRDEC in 2009, and this year he worked on creating an Expandable Desk prototype for the Standardized Integrated Command Post System, or SICPS. He works for team leader Melvin Jee on the Tactical Shelters Team in the Expeditionary Maneuver Support Directorate.

"The most enjoyable part of my job is the satisfaction that my contributions will help Soldiers in the field," said Connors.

Many members of NSRDEC's workforce serve as mentors and supervisors to the student participants.

Jee summed up the importance of student and mentor interactions.

"The student and mentor relationship is invaluable when working with these young college students," said Jee. "It gives them a chance to tackle real-world problems versus some theoretical exercise in the classroom. They realize that they have the opportunity to impact the lives of the Soldier in real, tangible ways, whether it's giving them better food or helping them to set up and take down their shelter quicker to enable the maneuver force to be more expeditionary. In so doing, they tackle issues that project officers may not have the bandwidth to tackle. In other words, they're almost a force multiplier of a sort. In addressing these problems, they not only bring a fresh perspective, but, if successful, they bring great credit to NSRDEC and a sense of pride to the mentor."

"The fact that we have consistently held this event for the past 11 years is evidence of the value and benefit that it brings to our students and the Natick Soldier Systems Center community," said Sharon Menard, deputy chief of staff for Human Resources at NSRDEC. "Every year, the students impress us with their technical knowledge and their professional presentations. Their enthusiasm and excitement for our mission is a direct reflection of the dedication and commitment of their mentors and team leaders. I am very grateful to be involved in this effort and to be a part of the organization that supports it."

---

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 provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities for 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.