When Laura DeSimone talked about teaching science and math to her sixth-grade students at Robert J. Coelho Middle School in Attleboro, Mass., she sounded like the Army lieutenant she once was.

"You have to get dirty," said DeSimone of her teaching method. "It has to be hands on."

Spoken like someone who spent a little time in Mogadishu, Somalia, but DeSimone also wrapped up her Army service with a year at the Natick Soldier Systems Center that ended in 1995.

"This was my last post," said DeSimone, then Laura Owens. "I was in charge of the Office of Information Technology (at U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine)."

So it was with no small amount of nostalgia that DeSimone returned to Natick Oct. 4 for the first time since she was in uniform, bringing along other teachers and 150 students from Coelho.

"It's nice to be back, to see some things that I haven't seen in lots of years, because 1995 is a long time ago," said DeSimone, adding that she enjoyed her year at Natick. "I had a really great experience here. It was a nice group of people to work with. Seeing all this great science kind of kept that fire burning."

After her Army service, DeSimone spent eight years in the private sector before turning to teaching when the technology bubble burst in 2000. It seemed like a natural transition for her.

"When you're in the service, you're leading people," DeSimone said. "I think, as a lieutenant, you do a lot of teaching. I've always been kind of in the same field. It's just my audience has changed over the years."

In 2009, DeSimone reconnected with NSSC through Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) teacher training conducted by the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center at Natick High School. Since then, Donna Bulger, workforce development manager at NSRDEC, has made two visits to DeSimone and her students at Coelho.

"Laura is a very passionate teacher and is always looking for the most creative ways to teach her students the engineering design process," Bulger said. "It is important because it is part of the (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System), and she wants the students to really understand it.

"She's really an advocate for STEM. She's very energetic, and I know the school's lucky to have her."

"Laura's very into the teaching them the engineering design process," Bulger said. "She's really an advocate for STEM. She's very energetic, and I know the school's lucky to have her."

During their NSRDEC visit, Coelho students split into groups and went to nine different demonstrations. Then they came back together and shared what they had seen.

"The kids were abuzz with excitement about (the) trip," DeSimone said. "I have received several thank-yous from parents, as well, who said that their children reported this was the best field trip they had ever been on."

It was also right down DeSimone's alley.

"I think I'm kind of a unique science teacher in the fact that I don't teach by the book," said DeSimone, who has a bachelor's degree in psychology from Lehigh University and a master's degree in mathematics from Providence College. "I think there needs to be more science taught hands on. That's what science should be about. It's about having fun and about really loving what you do."

Now if DeSimone could only convince some of her students to follow her lead.

"If I can share my passion and excitement about this field, my hope is that kids might choose this as a career and we'd be able to retain some excellent talent," DeSimone said. "It's my third career and my last career. I love it."