Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. -- Life's journey often takes interesting twists and turns; sometimes it works its way around in a full circle. Once in a while, someone is lucky enough to be able to go back to the beginning and offer wisdom and encouragement to others starting in the same place.
In that vein, an Army engineer is returning for his second stint as a mentor to the June eCYBERMISSION event he once attended as a young national finalist. Frank W. Bohn, electrical engineer for U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's Communication-Electronics Center is attending this week's eCYBERMISSION National Judging & Educational Event, or NJ&EE, as a mentor for sixth grade participants.
eCYBERMISSION is an Army-sponsored, web-based Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, competition for students in grades six through nine and part of the overall Army Educational Outreach Program portfolio of STEM enrichment activities. The program engages students in hands-on, inquiry-based learning by using best practices in scientific inquiry and engineering design while formulating solutions to community-based problems.
Student teams of three or four members are led by an adult team advisor and are provided an opportunity to virtually engage with Army scientists and engineers as they complete their projects. Students compete at the state, regional, and finally, the national level for a chance to win up to $9,000 in U.S. Savings Bonds (matured value) for each team member.
Bohn, himself, was in the sixth grade, keen on math and science, when his interest was piqued by this STEM competition his school had implemented as an elective program. His team settled on the issue of animal abuse and, through research, found the problem was even greater than they'd anticipated. They settled on education as a way to address the issue and created a presentation for younger children in lower grades in their school. Through pre- and post-testing, they found that education and increased knowledge did have a positive effect on recognition of the issue and how to take steps to report and mitigate abuses.
Bohn's team project won at the regional level; they arrived in DC as national finalists and competed one last time. Though they didn't win the overall award, Bohn said simply going to the finals was enough.
"Going to national finals really isn't even about presenting and winning at that point because you've already won," said Bohn. "Sure there's the judging and everyone's nervous about that, but realistically, when I look back, that was such a small part of the event."
In addition to the final competition, the week-long NJ&EE was packed with learning opportunities and activities. Bohn now recalls a whirlwind of fun events, continuous learning, meeting new people, exploring various Army labs and touring DC; he also remembers the excitement of being recognized for a winning project.
Bohn went on to compete in eCYBERMISSION each remaining year of eligibility, seventh through ninth grade. While he didn't repeat that first win, his interest in science and technology continued to grow, nurtured in part by his father, Frank A. Bohn, now a branch chief at another of the Communication-Electronic's divisions.
Through his participation in several internship programs, he interned at Aberdeen Proving Ground every summer and holiday break throughout high school and his years at Rutgers University. As he began his own career at APG, he eventually reached out to the center's outreach team.
The outreach program is a collection of kindergarten through college-level programs specifically designed to give students access to educational and extra-curricular opportunities in STEM. Its expressed goal is that of creating opportunity and excitement among the next generation of STEM professionals.
"We are so fortunate to have someone like Frank engage with the outreach program, and specifically eCYBERMISSION," said Erica Fineman-Bertoli, team lead for the Communication-Electronics's Outreach program. "Not only does he have a tangible commitment to these students, he is able to legitimately tell them that he was once exactly where they are now."
"Inspiring science and technology students to become creative, kind, meticulous, and effective leaders for the future is a noble endeavor we can invest in today to see significant returns as we enter into a new era of technological awareness and achievement," Director, Patrick O'Neill said. "Frank, like many of our center's (CERDEC) engineers, is setting a great example for STEM students to follow as they involve themselves in group projects and learn team concepts that will pay immense dividends into college and their careers."
While Bohn is also involved in other outreach activities like summer camp, this particular event resonates with him. "I love it, because it's what was done for me. I love being able to show these kids there's a path they can take doing the stuff they already enjoy and turn it into a career."
The current year of competition began with 5,683 teams made up of over 20,000 students in five regions across the country. Twenty national finalist teams remain to compete, five at each grade level, for a final award.
As the 20 teams arrive this week, they will be immediately introduced to their mentors. The mentors will take the opportunity to explain what they do for the US Army and discuss some of the Army STEM career fields available. They'll explain Army values and how those values apply to both Soldiers and civilians, and this discussion will continue throughout the week.
Bohn said the teams tend to get very comfortable with their mentors who are always with them, and they come to view them less as "supervisors" and more as friends.
"I'm a constant face for them to come to for advice on how to present their projects, if they need it," Bohn said. "At the same time they're asking me questions like, 'What do you do, what does it mean to work for the Army? What is research and development, what type of stuff are you actually designing, and do you enjoy it?'"
As excited as Bohn was to attend as a national finalist all those years ago, he said he is just as enthusiastic to return as a mentor. He enjoys being able to talk to his teams about how the Army is involved in science and technology, research and development.
"It definitely means a lot to help, to mentor these kids and to explain this is really an Army program and what it means to me, as an Army civilian now involved in science and technology," Bohn said. "I give a lot of credit to eCYBERMISSION for pushing me in the direction of science and technology."
Bertoli-Fineman noted that Bohn's kind of role modeling is priceless. "I have seen him talk to the middle school students at eCYBERMISSION and watch as they understand that his history makes their future limitless."
The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's Communication-Electronics 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.