DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah -- Dugway's West Desert Test Center conducted a student outreach tour in conjunction with the University Of Utah's engineering summer program, July 3, in the barren desert of Utah.
The university is encouraging high school students from the Wasatch Front, who are interested in studying chemistry, to broaden their interests by visiting organizations and facilities prior to their freshman college year.
About 90 students and their teachers toured three facilities on the test center, which is a major Army test range for all classes and sizes of chemical, biological, explosives defense testing and where elite forces and first responders come for one of the best chemical and biological response courses available.
A round-robin tour gave students a chance to listen and ask questions to a variety of subject matter experts at three diverse testing sites: Mustang Village, the Tower Test Grid and the above ground, man-made Brauch Tunnel. These facilities presented prospects for a chemistry career field that most students had not considered before.
Lauren Verson, who attended West High School in Salt Lake City and plans to continue her studies in chemistry, was particularly impressed with Mustang Village.
"It's pretty cool to see the setup here. I have heard about something similar to this before, but to see how it would apply to Soldiers on the battlefield was interesting," she said.
Mustang Village provides hazmat training for Soldiers and first responders with advanced hands on training with chemical and biological simulants in class room and in field settings.
A significant amount of training focuses on identification, recognition, production, sampling and evidence collection, noted Wendell Williams, a program manager with Special Program Division's Mobile Training Team, which takes this same training to military and first responder teams around the world.
Carter Jennings, a chemist teacher, who specializes in Organic Chemistry, was pleased that his students were able to see that there are many things that can be accomplished with a chemistry background.
"This is awesome. It's good to get them exposed to all the different ways chemistry can be applied," he said. "The biggest benefit is sometimes students have a narrow focus. Here they see that there are many things they can accomplish with a chemical background."
The STEM outreach is a priority because too few incoming college students choose to pursue degrees in these fields. The U.S. Department of Labor expects that there will be more than 1.2 million job openings in STEM related fields in the next few years, but, not enough qualified graduates to fill them.
To help the students understand what Dugway looks for in graduating seniors, Wendell helped explain the importance of the work performed by the test center specialists.
"If you are interested in what you see here today, you should look to chemistry and biological studies for your majors at the university," he said. "We also look at a military background, especially those with a Special Forces background, because this is the kind of detailed skill set that is needed."
Jaruwat Vaendl a student from Herriman, Utah said he found the makeshift laboratory really interesting, informative and cool to see up close. "I am defiantly interested in the Mobile Training Teams program," he added.
Derek Che, a student from Salt Lake City, Utah added he would, "definitely be interested in a summer internship in the future."
The second stop was at the Tower Test Grid, a large outdoor test grid with high towers placed in circular pattern. "Test grids monitor open air tests of simulated agents in designated areas where outdoor field testing takes place," explained David McAtee, a physical scientist technician at the site.
He also noted that the grid permits a quick and efficient collection of air or vapor samples which allows for data communication in near real time.
Vivian Hill one of the student attendees was surprised at the explosive set off in the Tower Grid and the way a truck mounted sprayer could be used to release chemicals or a biological hazard.
"It's crazy! I have never see anything like this before. I didn't even know this was here," she said. "Definitely impressive."
Connor Viliquett of Park City, Utah said it was "Unexpected and much different from what he expected to find out in the desert."
The final stop of the STEM tour was at the Brauch Tunnel. The tunnel is a massive training complex created by using old shipping containers that are hooked together. The inside is sprayed with dark foam to simulate an underground environment of tunnels and caves. Several cave like areas are set up with makeshift laboratories.
Chris Johnson, chief of the Special Program Division, welcomed the students. He said the Brauch Tunnel is actually a training facility for chemical and biological defense training.
The tunnel is made by connecting old shipping containers, which imitate a long serpentine cave with lots of areas to navigate. A dark foam covers the inside creating the curves and low spots that need to be navigated by Soldiers and first responders, who are sent in to find a makeshift laboratory and make assessments of possible hazards.
"It's enormous, but very cool," said Sierra Van Beekum of Murray, Utah. "I'd like to explore more, but I might actually get lost.
Teacher Susan Bank, who teaches high school chemistry at Granger High School had high praise for the student outreach program.
"It's been really fun for me and the kids. Lots of neat things, like the chemical applications, I don't think I had thought about chemical that way before, she said. "Thank you for allowing us to bring our student's here. It's been a great day."