College STEM students gain ‘real-world’ experience with summer apprenticeships at Picatinny Arsenal

By Ed Lopez, Picatinny Arsenal Public AffairsAugust 29, 2023

Summer college apprenticeships set record at Picatinny Arsenal
A record number of total and female college students participated in a summer apprenticeship program this year at the U.S. Army’s Picatinny Arsenal in Northern New Jersey. The program is designed to give students in technical majors an opportunity to working alongside scientists and engineers who are conducting U.S. Army-sponsored research. As part of their apprenticeships, students are given tours of various facilities on the installation. One stop on the tour, pictured above, included information on U.S. Navy shipboard gun systems. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. – The largest research and development organization here reached a record high this year for the total number of students participating in its summer apprentice program, along with highest number of female students among that record total.

The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Armaments Center started its summer apprenticeship program in 2016 with 10 students, including five women. This year, the number was 43 including 13 women.

The number of women who completed the program this year was notable because there were no women the previous year, a situation that at the time caught the attention of Col. Kevin Shilley, the military deputy to the director of the Armaments Center.

“On a personal note, increasing the number of women participating in the program was a challenge I issued last year, and you achieved that and more,” Shilley told STEM managers in an email after the conclusion of this year’s program. When Shilley issued his challenge, he noted that women are a critical part of the ongoing process of finding solutions to advance the center’s mission.

Samuel Joisil, STEM Program Manager at Picatinny Arsenal, described the value of encouraging students to pursue STEM careers. “The DoD relies on a strong, STEM-capable workforce to achieve critical functions of its mission,” he said. The Picatinny STEM Office manages the apprenticeship program.

“From discovering emerging technologies to developing the next-generation workforce, the DoD depends on brilliant STEM professionals to continue to innovate,” Joisil added. “These students have conducted real-world, U.S. Army-sponsored research alongside scientists and engineers at our world-class facilities.”

The Armaments Center has more than 3,200 civilian engineers, scientists and support personnel. It provides the technology for over 90 percent of the Army’s lethality, with a focus on advanced weapons, ammunition, and fire-control systems. The center is actively supporting the Army Futures Command’s vision to deliver the Army of 2030 and design the Army of 2040.

To cap off this year’s summer apprenticeships, the students presented “culmination briefs” on Aug. 10 before fellow students and managers from the Armaments Center. Students introduced themselves and described their backgrounds, noted their undergraduate degree fields, and described their activities during the summer. Photos and other images were often used to explain their research.

Christopher Nokes, a computer engineering and computer science major at Rochester Institute of Technology, participated in software research for fire control technology. “We cannot have Soldiers in the field running into software errors,” said Nokes, underscoring the need for rigorous debugging and testing.

He also noted the need to “future proof” software to extend its value. “We want the Soldiers five years down the line to be able to plug in whatever the newest hardware is and have that device still work.”

Andrew Rycharski, a student at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, was part of a team involved with learning various aspects of the system known as CROWS, or Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station. “We were involved with different projects and programs that reflect what foreign and domestic customers wanted for the systems they had, such as a special camera cover and different attachments for weapons systems,” he said.

Samantha Goudy, a human biology major at the State University of New York Albany, worked at the Explosive Industrial Base Branch, providing her with a broad perspective on explosives manufacturing as well as interactions with contractors.

“I would encourage others to become a summer apprentice as a chance to develop more knowledge on engineering whether chemical, mechanical, electrical, etc.,” Goudy said. “I truly enjoyed the opportunity to learn what goes on behind the scenes, scientifically, of making explosives and how their use and distribution benefits the Army.”

Victoria Pirog, a mechanical engineering student at NJIT, was involved with different aspects of performance analysis. “I’m very hands-on and like to build systems, but they can be hard to make,” she said. “Instead, coding and simulations can be used to determine different trajectories and to figure things out without having to build the actual product.”

John Pergolizzi, who is studying mechanical engineering at The College of New Jersey, was assigned to the Fuze Division and did research on flow controllers for turbine alternators on fuzes. He noted the benefits of learning how to work with lab equipment and using specialized software.

“My experience here was great,” he said. “I got to talk with real engineers that had real experience. I learned a lot about them, and I picked their brains about anything.”

Nicholas Elmasri, a mechanical engineering student at NJIT, experienced a wide range of learning opportunities at the Grenades & Demolitions Division. “I enjoyed how there is always something new to learn, with no shortage of fascinating projects. I learned about the engineering process, how to support a product ‘from cradle to grave,’ and how to apply academic knowledge to professional environments.”

This year, apprentice students obtained their experience through two programs. The U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program Apprenticeships provide undergraduate students the unique opportunity to conduct U.S. Army-sponsored research alongside scientist and engineer mentors. This program is funding internally by the DEVCOM Armaments Center.

For the first time, the Picatinny STEM Office participated in the Historically Black Colleges and Universities & Minority-Serving Institutions (HBCU/MI) Summer Research Internship Program. There were five students, including one female. The program is funded by the Department of Defense.

“The goal of the HBCU Program is to give students who attend these colleges and universities a bridge between classrooms and real-world experiences, and aims to increase the number of minority scientists and engineers who choose careers with the DoD,” said Joisil, the STEM program manager at Picatinny Arsenal.

Of all the students who have participated in the summer apprentice program since 2016, 13 later went on to obtain employment directly at the Arsenal or as contractors.