REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Aviation & Missile Center's Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education and Development Outreach paired 18 students with 15 mentors this summer as part of the Science and Engineering Apprentice Program/College Qualified Leaders program, known as SEAP/CQL.

The SEAP/CQL, part of the Army Educational Outreach Program, is an eight-week program designed to immerse STEM students in related fields before entering the workforce. They are given the opportunity to work toward honing their upcoming career goals.

Through this program, students are provided invaluable experiences to make informed decisions about their careers. "It's an opportunity to apply what you've learned in college in a hands-on environment and gain some experience in what you might possibly do or want to do in the future," said Kelsey Johnson, a sophomore at the University of Alabama and participant in the program. "It sort of helps you figure out where you want to go with your career, even if you haven't really decided yet."

"For me, [the program] reinforced what I already thought that I wanted to do," said Kevin Lang, a junior at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Lang and Johnson are both aspiring aerospace engineers and completed the program this summer.

Students who have gone through the program recognize the significant role it plays in their future career plans. "It's actually very informative, and everybody is very friendly. It's not like they just throw a task at you, instructions are very clear. If you don't understand something, someone is always open," said Dana Jones, a junior majoring in computer science at Tuskegee University. "It's a great program, and I would really recommend it to anybody in the STEM program."

The Aviation & Missile Center's involvement in this initiative began in the early 1980s. Since then, approximately 700 students have gone through the program. This year, three high school students completed the SEAP portion, and 15 college students completed the CQL portion.

Mentors benefit from the program as well. Jasmine Brantley, an employee in the Systems Simulation, Software and Integration Directorate and a mentor this year, noted how this program helped her grow in her own career. "I actually was new to a certain position, so it kind of helped me grow… because I knew I had to mentor someone else and develop them to grow as well. It kind of pushed me forward in my own position," said Brantley.

Students learn skills that they otherwise may not have gained in a classroom setting. "They definitely get more confident in themselves and what they are doing in the workplace throughout the eight weeks," said Justin Grissim, another mentor in the program this summer. "They get more comfortable around their coworkers. They definitely learned a lot in a technical environment. They learned to speak… and write as engineers do; it's not just something you learn in school."

Dr. Charles Basham, Program Executive Office Missiles and Space deputy chief of staff, was the keynote speaker during the awards ceremony July 26 and spoke of the importance of having a mentor throughout one's career. "You can't do this by yourself. You've got to have someone to advocate for you," said Basham.

Candidates interested in applying for the program must be a U.S. citizen and 18 years of age before June 1 of the calendar year they apply.

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The U.S. Army Aviation & Missile 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.