By Ms. Allison Barrow (RDECOM)March 18, 2011
Michael Zalewski, mechanical engineer for the Research, Development and Engineering Command's communications-electronics center, or CERDEC, has been a part of U.S. Army STEM programs since high school. Starting at CERDEC as part of the Science and Engineering Apprentice Program, or SEAP, and moving on to the Student Temporary Employment Program, or STEP, Zalewski had a taste of working in research and development before even sitting in a college classroom. He continued his Army experience through the Student Career Experience Program, or SCEP, and finally the Career Related Experience in Science and Technology, or CREST, program while attending Norwich University. After graduating he took a full-time position with CERDEC and is currently working in the CERDEC Command and Control Directorate's Advanced Electromechanical Power Team.
Zalewski is one of 10 U.S. Army scientists and engineers supporting the Maryland Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, a Department of Defense high school research competition, and the Morgan State University Innovative STEM Symposium, a college-level competition held March 18-19 at the Baltimore Marriott Hunt Valley Inn in Hunt Valley, Md. As an Army engineer who took full advantage of Army STEM programs, Zalewski provides a first-hand account of his experiences:
Q1. I UNDERSTAND YOU WERE AN APPRENTICE IN THE SEAP PROGRAM, WHAT WAS IT LIKE AS A HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT TO SEE FIRST-HAND WHAT AN ENGINEER DID AND TO BE ABLE TO SUPPORT THAT WORK'
The opportunity as a high school student to work with government engineers on projects with real-world applications provided me with a unique insight into the relevance of my STEM-related class work outside of a pure academic environment. This unique experience motivated me to pursue an engineering education beyond high school.
Q2. DURING COLLEGE YOU WERE PART OF THE SCEP AND CREST PROGRAMS, HOW WAS YOUR WORK IN THESE POSITIONS DIFFERENT FROM ONES YOUR FRIENDS MAY HAVE HAD'
The opportunities afforded to me by the SCEP program differed to those of a traditional summer internship program, primarily through the degree of responsibility which I was given to affect changes in some of the challenges facing the Warfighter. As a SCEP employee, I held a range of roles and responsibilities, from a member of a design team to initiating and developing automation controls for battery safety tests. The feasibility demonstrated by the proof of concept system constructed as a SCEP, ultimately led to my CERDEC-sponsored capstone design project at Norwich University.
Q3. HOW DID YOUR ATTENDANCE AT NORWICH UNIVERSITY, A MILITARY COLLEGE, INFLUENCE YOUR WORK HERE AT CERDEC'
While participating in the SEAP/STEP, on the recommendations of CERDEC engineers, I considered and enrolled in Norwich University. The hands-on experiences, which I gleaned from my time there, provided a glimpse into the environment in which the technology that is developed by CERDEC will ultimately be utilized. Additionally, many of my close friends and classmates are now active duty officers serving overseas, personalizing the ubiquitous term "the Warfighter."
Q4. WHAT STRUCK YOU MOST ABOUT YOUR TIME SPENT IN THE SEAP, STEP, SCEP AND CREST PROGRAMS'
What struck me the most about the multitude of student intern programs I had participated in was how the efforts of even a student intern could ultimately have a positive impact on the Warfighter.
Q5. WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON THESE ARMY STEM PROGRAMS HAVE TAUGHT YOU'
During both my high school and undergraduate educations, the Army STEM programs provided relative practical opportunities to apply the scholastic knowledge from school, fostering a well-rounded understanding of the information.
Q6. SINCE THE PROGRAMS ARE NON-BINDING, AFTER GRADUATION YOU COULD HAVE LOOKED FOR A JOB IN INDUSTRY, WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO STAY WORKING FOR THE ARMY'
The unique nature of the technology developed by the Army was one of the primary factors in my continuation with CERDEC. Today I develop technologies covering the entire power spectrum with applications ranging from some of the largest fielded units down to niche technologies for Special Operation Forces. The electrical power generation technologies which I have the opportunity to work with are true enablers with high probabilities to transfer to the Warfighter.
Q7. WHY ARE YOU VOLUNTEERING YOUR TIME TO JUDGE AT THE INNOVATIVE STEM SYMPOSIUM'
I feel that STEM outreach programs such as ISS are an excellent way to instill in today's students a sense of enthusiasm for and recognition in STEM.
Q8. HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE WORKING WITH STUDENTS WHO MAY BE INTERESTED IN STEM LIKE YOU WERE AT THEIR AGE'
I hope that the participants in ISS take away from this experience a better understanding of and enthusiasm for STEM-related careers. Having the opportunity to work with these students helps me reinforce the confidence that the next generation of engineers will bring a continued level of energy and expertise to the challenges of the future.
Q9. GROWING UP INVOLVED IN ARMY STEM OUTREACH PROGRAMS, WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR THOSE LOOKING TO GET INVOLVED IN STEM EDUCATION'
The STEM-related career fields have direct impacts on today's and tomorrow's world; getting involved early with opportunities to participate in a STEM internship with the Army places young students on a fast track to these highly rewarding careers.
For more information on Army STEM education programs and opportunities, send an email to: