Benjamin Franklin once said "an investment in knowledge pays the best interest," a statement that rings true for many college students, especially as they look toward future employment.

Local students and faculty from Harford Community College and the University of Delaware recently followed his recommendation during a tour of U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center (ATC) Nov. 28 as part of the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command's (ATEC) Educational Partnership Initiative.

The students, studying science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) and cyber security fields, toured the breadth of ATC's testing capabilities to see practical applications of their studies in the workforce.

"I think that any opportunity to see your major being used in the field is worth your time," said Brent Rutledge, a junior and computer engineering major at the University of Delaware. "You never know. Maybe you'll find something that is the thing you want to do, but you didn't know that's what you wanted to do until you went out there and found it."

Along with a tour of ATC, students and faculty learned about hiring processes, internship opportunities and the benefits of working for the federal government. Human resource specialists and current student interns from ATEC, the U.S. Army Evaluation Center (AEC) and ATC also shared insights and provided mentorship to the students.

For Pam Karwowski, Director for Government, Contractor and IT Training at Harford Community College, bringing students to Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) is critical and helps to make applying for the federal government less intimidating.

"That's really the big thing. Let the students really see what APG does," said Karwowski. "When they see people that look like them and they hear from recent graduates, they think 'oh, it's a possibility. I can do this.'"

John Feser, a freshman and cyber security major at Harford Community College agreed.

"Seeing people doing stuff like this gets the motivational juices flowing and gets me inspired," said Feser. "It also shows me what I can do and what I can work towards."

The Educational Partnership Initiative arose from a strategic analysis of ATEC's workforce, a process that identified gaps in mission critical occupations (MCO). In making connections with local colleges and universities, the project will educate individuals on the process to qualify for those critical mission requirements, according to Alissa Atanasio, a Human Resources Specialist with the Acquisition, Readiness and Development Branch, ATEC Human Resources Directorate.

"By hosting tours, ATEC will create awareness throughout the local educational community and build mutually beneficial partnerships wherein students will view federal service as a positive career option," said Atanasio. "We can build a talent pipeline aligned to our MCOs."

In the future, Atanasio hopes to see the Educational Partnership Initiative steadily grow and add experiential, hands-on components.

"Our hope is to see more STEM students seek out ATEC as a premier place to work and for faculty to continue connecting us with their students," said Atanasio.

For Rutledge, the main takeaway for the students was simple: "Working here would be cool!"