REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (March 12, 2019) - Joseph Patterson grew up on a farm and learned mechanical engineering out of necessity. When equipment broke, he had to fix it.

Patterson, a Huntsville native, serves as a welding engineer intern at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center Engineering Directorate's Prototype Integration Facility.

He recently completed the U.S. Army Education Outreach Program's College Qualified Leader program, which allows college students to be mentored by a Department of Defense scientist.

"I applied for it and then I got picked," said Patterson. "That was a blessing right there -- that I made the cut somehow." His dad, an engineer at the center, encouraged him to apply.

"In any given year, we might have over 200 applicants and only get 20 to 25 students out of it. The competition is steep," said Gayla Spivey, CCDC Aviation & Missile Center's outreach, STEM development, and diversity sustainment lead. "Often times, a student starts off in (the Science and Engineering Apprenticeship Program) and then move on to CQL, especially if the mentor has valued their work and their input. It's just an automatic step if they've done well, and Joseph was one of those."

While he had a mentor during each portion in the program, Patterson said Spivey offered overarching career guidance the entire time.

Spivey said she encourages students to use their intern experience to help shape their career goals. With Patterson, she said she saw his interest in mechanical engineering and welding.

"I steered him toward industrial engineering and systems engineering, which were his major interests," Spivey said, adding that Patterson is now on a career path directly applicable to his major and doing what he loves to do.

The opportunity is not lost on Patterson. His advice to students in the program is to volunteer as much as possible.

"Do everything you can possibly do. If somebody lets you take a tour, take a tour…It's a cool thing to see what other people do, other people's facilities, how they operate, and their missions," Patterson said, noting the importance of understanding how his work and the work done at Redstone Arsenal fits into the larger picture of the U.S. Army.

Patterson also encouraged interested students to apply.

"You've got absolutely nothing to lose," he said.

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The CCDC Aviation & Missile Center, formerly known as the Aviation & Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC), is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, which conducts responsive research, development and life cycle engineering to deliver the aviation and missile capabilities the Army depends on to ensure victory on the battlefield today and tomorrow. Through collaboration across the command's core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our Nation's wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.