By Lindy DinklageApril 9, 2008
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 9, 2008) -- As spring arrives and the school year draws to a close, the Army Educational Outreach Program marks its third school-year spent investing in education.
While the Army has supported various educational programs and organizations for more than 50 years, it was just three years ago that it brought its resources together to offer programs that reach students from across the globe -- from kindergarten to a career in math or science.
The students gain hands-on experience they can't get anywhere else, said Dr. John Parmentola, the Army's director for Research and Laboratory Management.
"It's estimated we reach 150,000 students across the nation per year through AEOP," Parmentola said.
There are two primary reasons why the Army invests in educational outreach, Parmentola explained. The first is to give something of value back to the families across America who have given their sons and daughters in defense of the nation.
The second reason is to inspire youth to be engaged in science, mathematics and engineering, he said, so someday some of them may decide to work in an Army laboratory, or join the Army with an understanding of how technical fields support the Army's mission.
To accomplish these dual objectives, the Army provides speakers for classroom lessons, organizes after-school programs and summer camps, supports various competitions offering prizes, and offers competitive summer internships, scholarships and fellowships.
The Army's reaching out to to America's youth to promote mathematics and science makes perfect sense, said Vallen Emery, Outreach program manager for the Army Research Laboratory.
"We're building a pipeline to get students re-engaged and re-energized," Emery said. "The Army has a major role in national security, and it needs U.S. citizens in its laboratories. It needs to grow."
The past few years have been a time of huge change in Army educational outreach, Emery said. Students are now recruited into science and technology programs at an early age, and the Army offers continuing opportunities that support their pursuits in mathematics and science from the cradle to the laboratory.
"We're going more and more national instead of regional," said Emery. "The programs now have a reach across America, and we're working to incorporate other Army elements, such as the National Science Center, and West Point."
The end goal of all of these programs is to instill a lifelong love for science, technology and engineering, and help fill the laboratories and research centers in the future, according to program directors,
"It gets the kids engaged and gives them something they can sink their teeth into," said Leonard Huskey, associate for Corporate Programs at the Army Research Laboratory and a volunteer with the FIRST Robotics program. Huskey mentors students on an Army-sponsored club in Baltimore, one of three teams with which the laboratory has a relationship.
"They could come to work for us later, or they could work in the private sector supporting the Department of Defense," said Huskey. "We're working the pipeline of engineering and science talent for the nation."
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics is a high-school program where students design and build a robot with particular characteristics and abilities, and then compete in national and regional competitions. The Dunbar High School program was organized in 2005, and Huskey has been working with the students ever since.
"I did not know anything about robots before I joined this program," said Jasmin Johnson, a 10th grader from Dunbar High School who participates in the FIRST Robotics program. The program has taught her about math and science, as well as opening the door to a career she may not have considered.
"I find these jobs very interesting and fun, although it may be challenging at times," said Johnson. "I believe that the reward of your success over-shines the challenges that are presented for you to solve or complete."
Inspiring students to explore new opportunities is just one of the end results of the Army Educational Outreach Program. The relationship between the students and their Army advisors is also key to the program's success.
The Army seeks to set up technology and science-related partnerships where Army experts and mentors can pair with students to strengthen math and science education, said Huskey. The relationship between students and mentors extends so far that Huskey and other mentors are helping motivated students get into competitive college programs for technology and engineering.
The advice of mentors, combined with scholarships and competition dollars, help interested students get the math, engineering and science skills they need to succeed.
For more information on programs offered, resources available or how to become a mentor visit www.usaeop.com.
(Kayla Overton, Army Public Affairs, contributed to this article).