PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- What better way to spark a lesson on basic electronics than to feel the hair-raising effects of electricity by placing your hands on a static-electricity-producing Van De Graaff Generator?

So it was for students Oct. 17 at the Ridge and Valley Charter School in Blairstown, N.J., who had the opportunity to build their own basic electronic devices under the guidance of a senior director from Picatinny Arsenal.

Ralph Tillinghast, Lab Director of the Collaborative Innovation Lab, volunteered to journey out to the school as part of ongoing efforts at Picatinny Arsenal and the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education to local students.

"It is our job as engineers and scientists to educate and excite the next generation about what we do," said Tillinghast.

"He's fantastic," said Ed Petersen, STEM Program Manager.

"He's got the enthusiasm and a great ability to present the knowledge at the level of the students. He has a tremendous ability to relate to them."

The day's events consisted of two hour-long sessions for students, with one session targeted at students at the 6th through 8th grade level and the other for students at the 3rd through 5th grade level.

In each session, the students received hands-on experience in constructing basic electronic devices using educational snap-circuit kits.

Students in both groups were eager to attend the sessions when they first heard that Tillinghast was scheduled to visit the school.

"The general reaction from the students was excitement," said student guide Tonya Wikander. "The desire to attend was high among the students." Teachers at the school are called "guides."

Wikander said Tillinghast had visited the school before. Students who attended his prior sessions were eager to participate in the latest session.

"I love these workshops because we get to work with the kits," said one student who participated in Tillinghast's previous events. "I'm definitely learning about how things work by seeing demonstrations and with the hands-on activities."

While introducing the students to the basics of circuit building and electronics is an important part of having these workshops, Tillinghast also pointed to an overarching purpose for the sessions that would endure beyond the hour-long lessons.

"My personal feeling is that these workshops are critical to the future for our country and humanity in general," said Tillinghast.

"These kids will one day have to take ownership of the issues and problems that we have today and tomorrow and to tackle those issues we will need people who understand the STEM disciplines and can develop creative solutions."