Center engineers build the future with middle school students

By Katie Davis Skelley, DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center Public AffairsDecember 2, 2021

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REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (Dec. 2, 2021) – It is a conversation that many engineer parents have had with their children: “What exactly do engineers do?”

It is a question that U.S. Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center’s Jamie White has had with his own kids and led him to become involved with the We Build It Better program.

We Build It Better answers this question by bringing engineers into the classroom. The program is an all-inclusive, 18-week, industry-designed educator-developed, curricular experience that engages middle school students in a work-like STEAM environment. DEVCOM AvMC has teamed with New Hope Middle School to teach students how to understand the process of developing a new product and equipping them with the skills to design and create an innovative solution to a real-world industry-based challenge.

“We speak to the idea of the cool things that kids like – such as Iron Man or sci-fi television shows and how real-life technology connects to that,” said White, Manufacturing Technology Branch Chief, Manufacturing Science and Technology Division.

STEM is a commonly known term these days but what is STEAM? Science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, with the idea being that the arts spark imagination and creativity that align with the tenets of STEM.

“The unique partnership DEVCOM AvMC holds with Wichita State University was a key enabler in bringing the WBIB program to the North Alabama area, through the FirePoint Innovations Center,” White said. “As we explored many pathways to enhance the STEM/STEAM career field education experience, FirePoint was instrumental in investigating, evaluating and ultimately implementing what has proven to be a very successful program.

“With a wealth of industry, academia and technical program management experience, backed by the expertise of WSU, FirePoint proved to be an excellent AvMC partner in expanding New Hope Middle School instructors’ knowledge and skill sets, bringing new concepts and advanced manufacturing technologies to the forefront of the classroom for students to explore. The benefits associated with a program such as this will extend far beyond the immediate future, as AvMC and employers across the region seek to acquire and retain the best workforce talent of tomorrow.”

Is the program engineering, manufacturing or computer science? All three.

“We often speak about the importance of forging the future of the Army’s technical warfighting capability,” said AvMC Metrology Lead and volunteer Ben Thomason. “The advancement of technology and the modernization of depot sustaining support capabilities is paramount, but not enough to position for victory. Without men and women to perform the critical support functions in these technology areas, advancement in technology is not actualized.

“Investing into the hopes and dreams of the next generation and playing a small part in helping them see a career in technology and manufacturing is critical to the longevity of Army readiness and the overall ability of our nation to defend and uphold the freedoms which have been paid for so dearly. All it takes is one mind, one heart, one dream to be instilled with the audacity to go beyond, to dream big and to achieve more than what has been expected of them.”

The program opens a door to the students in their educational path in the middle school years, as it has been shown that students benefit from STEAM education the earlier the better.

“We Build It Better has given me the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone as an educator and teach something brand new to my students,” New Hope teacher Sarah Merryman said. “I have learned just as much as they have and have thoroughly enjoyed the hands-on experience it brings to my classroom.

“For my students, We Build It Better lets them see what they are capable of outside of a traditional academic setting. They are learning problem solving skills, workplace skills and business principles that they would only see in the upper levels of high school and beyond. It also gives students an introduction to the career possibilities that exist outside of a traditional college setting. Students are getting experience in programming, cybersecurity, manufacturing, modeling, 3D printing and so much more. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to teach this course and for what it brings to my students and me.”

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Thomason encourages others to share their love for their work with the next generation, that they can have a monumental impact on their future, quoting one of those sci-fi shows so popular right now, “The Mandalorian.”

“Each person at AvMC has a story, a perspective, a common thread with these young people. I encourage them to go to share their experiences, vision and passion. Pass on, even if for but one transformative moment, a legacy of technology and innovation in support of our ability to defend our freedoms. A torch burns brightest in the darkness; it is hard to say what’s going through these young persons’ minds during this time of global uncertainty, while they also navigate the turbulence of growing up.

“Take the time to be that torch and to show them that technology -- for just like the Mando Creed, ‘This is the way.’”


The DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the Army’s research and development focal point for advanced technology in aviation and missile systems. It is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. AvMC is responsible for delivering collaborative and innovative aviation and missile capabilities for responsive and cost-effective research, development and life cycle engineering solutions, as required by the Army’s strategic priorities and support to its Cross-Functional Teams.