Approximately 20 college students participated in the Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP) apprenticeship program as interns during the months of March through August at Picatinny Arsenal.
The interns conducted real-world, Army-sponsored research alongside Picatinny's scientists and engineers. Each had the opportunity to work on a video game called the Creative All-Terrain Transportation Simulation (CATTS) as well as join mentors in various aspects of engineering on post.
This program was hosted by the Picatinny Arsenal STEM Outreach office led by Shahram Dabiri, STEM Manager for the Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Armaments Center, and Maria Gonzalez, Senior Associate STEM/Workforce Development. STEM is the acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
One intern of the AEOP apprenticeship program, Sullivan Sharkey, said the apprenticeship program gives students real-world experience doing research or design work so they can become more competent engineers or scientists once they graduate.
Sharkey is currently working on an associate's in engineering science from County College of Morris. During the program, he worked at an armaments testing facility on Picatinny Arsenal.
"At the beginning of the program, it was difficult to do much because we were still online; a lot of places on post were closed due to COVID-19," said Sharkey. "At that time, we were all working on a project called CATS, which was a video game designed to get younger audiences interested in STEM, think critically and problem solve. CATTS included building a robot out of virtual PVC tubes in the program and testing different designs."
As more locations opened up on post, some interns had the opportunity to work with other mentors to conduct various research or development projects.
"Despite having separate mentors, the main goal was professional and personal development," said Sharkey. "We would have meetings with all the interns every week and talk about what we were doing, how it was helping us, and what we were learning, not just from the research itself, but personally, what we learned from it and what skills we gained."
Interns were placed in areas that were applicable to their majors. For example, as a mechanical engineer major, Sharkey had the opportunity to work on mechanical devices. Others had opportunities to work on software or artificial intelligence (AI) projects.
"Prior to going to school, I was an aircraft mechanic in the Marine Corps, so I have a decent amount of real world experience; but I still very much enjoyed this work and the lessons it's taught me and the skills it's given me," said Sharkey. "I'm hoping to pursue a career in mechanical engineering. I've only just started school in November of last year, so I'm still relatively new in my academic career. This program was beneficial because it wasn't just having you do research, it was about developing you as a person and developing your skills; and I think those skills are going to be useful in anything you do. It's also good to know people; it's good to network and know that these jobs exist and understand what they do."
Another intern, Reece Ronquillo, said, "AEOP is a chance for youth to learn, develop, and sharpen their education and creativity. It focuses on STEM subjects and gives people a chance to check out the research labs and have a sense of what is going on."
Ronquillo said he learned a lot while working on CATTS. Objectives of the CATTS project included providing feedback, implementing ideas to add to the game (such as game modes, mechanics, etc.), reporting any findings of bugs, and building a functional physical model cart based in CATTS.
"Picatinny gave college students the opportunity to gain experience and apply their engineering capabilities to the project they were working on," Ronquillo said. "It had to be something that could be done remotely because of the state the world is in. Some people in the internship got a job at Picatinny and others got jobs somewhere else with the help of Picatinny’s internships."
Ronquillo said he decided to give the program a shot in hopes it would help improve his resume and allow for a chance to get a better look at working as an engineer.
"I enjoyed meeting and working with new people because it helped me build my social skills," Ronquillo said. "The tasks that were given helped me build my engineering capabilities. Ultimately, this program helped me get a job."
Ronquillo is a Picatinny Arsenal maintenance engineer who was also studying mechanical engineer at Rutgers University.
"This program benefited me in getting a job,” said Ronquillo. “I would absolutely recommend it to other STEM students. It helps build your resume; it applies STEM tasks; you get paid; you build relationships, networking, and experience."
Dollagee Hanna, who’s a Rutgers University computer science major, was also an intern with the AEOP apprenticeship program. She had the opportunity to alpha and beta test the CATTS video game as well as work on an AI software development project with the Weapons and Software Engineering Center (WSEC) Fire Control Systems and Technology Directorate.
“When you do something in an academic or university setting, it's vastly different than doing it in an industry setting or professional work setting,” said Hanna. “These technologies haven't yet been created, and these problems haven't yet been solved; and it's up to you to think creatively and outside the box and figure out how to solve these problems. I feel really good about the work that was done this summer, and it was amazing to be a part of something that's going to be used in the future.”
For more information or to sign up for the AEOP apprenticeship program, visit the website at https://www.usaeop.com/apprenticeships-fellowships/.