Brenda VanMil, Ph.D., a research scientist at Army Research Laboratory in Aldelphi, Maryland, received the Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP) 2019 Mentor of the Year award in a Pentagon ceremony this week.
Dr. VanMil was one of 22 mentors nominated for the award from among nearly 2,000
Department of Defense (DoD) scientists, engineers and others who serve in mentor roles, judges for competitions and presenters for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities within the AEOP. More than 3,600 K-12 schools and 500 colleges or universities from the United States, its territories and DoD overseas locations participate in the program.
"The AEOP mission is to offer students and teachers a collaborative portfolio of Army-sponsored STEM programs that engage, inspire, and attract the next generation of STEM talent to the Army mission," Philip Perconti, Sc.D., said in a formal note presented to VanMil.
Dr. Perconti is the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for research and technology.
"Without the dedication and service from mentors and volunteers at our Army laboratories, we would not be able to provide these unique experiences for the next generation of scientists and engineers.
"It is my pleasure and privilege to express my appreciation for your contributions to the AEOP. You have gone above and beyond to foster an environment of STEM learning at the Army Research Laboratory. Efforts like yours are critical in making the AEOP a success. Again, thank you for your outstanding dedication to mentor the next generation of scientists and engineers. Army Strong!"
Perconti also presented VanMil with a certificate and trophy.
"It is humbling," VanMil said after receiving the award. "It is very nice to see your efforts are recognized for the next generation of engineers and scientists. I am very honored by receiving this award."
In her job at the laboratory, VanMil works with crystalized semiconductors used in electronics. Her expertise is in semiconductor epitaxy, which means growing a crystal atomic layer by atomic layer. In that role, she frequently mentors students interested in STEM activities. In 2019, she mentored a high school student through the AEOP as well as a post-doctoral student.
"Over the summer I was Brenda's intern for 10 weeks to accomplish a project under the Science Engineering Apprenticeship Program," said Harun Gopal, who nominated VanMil for the award. He is a now freshman at the University of Maryland College Park pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering.
"This project was to test the use of cathodoluminescence to locate defects in Silicon Carbide (SiC). In simple terms, Silicon Carbide is a crystalline material in which defects form due to imperfections in the growth process. I tested whether cathodoluminescence, a process in which electrons are fired at a sample and the light emitted from the sample is recorded, was a feasible way to detect these defects.
"I nominated Brenda for the award because of exceptional mentorship skills. I learned quite quickly that Brenda was willing to go above and beyond for me. Every question I asked got an answer. She prioritized my understanding of crucial concepts. Most importantly, she was approachable and a simple pleasure to be around. Brenda deserved more than a simple thank you card, so I nominated her for this award."
Gopal's nomination packet highlighted VanMil's effort to increase not only her own knowledge through the work, but the knowledge of her mentees.
"Often, through her mentorship, she is asked a multitude of questions about various facets of her job," Gopal wrote in his nomination. "To answer such questions, she must translate complex concepts to understandable pieces. Through this act of teaching, Dr. VanMill reinforces her own understanding of these complex concepts. Sometimes, she even learns new concepts from the student."
Each year, Perconti's office awards winners for community service, education and mentorship through the AEOP. These honors are handled through a partnership with the AEOP Alumni Association.