Students from Natick, Massachusetts' Wilson Middle School visited the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center, known locally as "Natick Labs", recently to explore topics in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Seventh graders toured facilities and met scientists and engineers as they learned about the science and technology involved in creating a Soldier's equipment.

"This lets students see why a place like Natick is essential," said Sgt. LarryWesley, " the civilian side teams with the military side; it's not just a military effort, it's also those civilian men and women who play a huge part in making our nation better."

The middle school students were enthusiastic about learning while at the Natick Labs, which was equally exciting for scientists and engineers as receiving interest from middle school children in general can be a challenge.

While touring the base, students got to see facilities used by the Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center and U.S. Army Research Institute for Environmental Medicine.

"This is one of the best field trips I've ever been on!" said Trevor Landuran, a 7th grade student who likes science and math, just outside the Tropic Chamber of the Doriot Climatic Chambers. The Tropic Chamber is one of 2 wind tunnel and climate test facilities researchers use to test environmental effects on Soldiers and equipment. "The wind tunnel was my favorite, it was cool to feel how strong winds can be without having to be outside."

Fellow seventh grader Tessa Hyatt also thought the trip was "really fun". Landuran and Hyatt both agree that the Natick Labs had "a lot more activities and a lot more interactive learning" than most of their usual field trips. In fact, one very interesting activity the labs offered the students involved the packaging of rations.

Students worked with their peers as they packed a cardboard box with water balloons, while using different materials to pad and protect their precious cargo. They then completed a series of tests, some of which included shaking their boxes to simulate road-travel, and standing on their boxes.

"My favorite part was the 'box dropping' (in the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate) - it was fun because we were unsure what would happen," said Hyatt, who shared that she would like to be a pediatrician when she is older. "I want to help the world and I realized two years ago that I wanted to be a pediatrician. I love science and math but I also like kids and making them happier."

While not every middle school student knows exactly what they want to do for their career, the Natick Labs hoped to show students the different opportunities they may want to pursue in the future.

"The Wilson Middle School visit exposes young individuals to interesting, fulfilling career fields," said Kristina Howard, a food technologist on the Combat Rations Team in Combat Feeding Directorate (CFD). "School visits are not only a treat for the students, but an opportunity for employees to have a positive impact on community members and share their passion for STEM.
The overflowing enthusiasm of the students is contagious; I can't speak for all other scientists and engineers, but for me this trip serves as a reminder of just how impactful and interesting my job is."
Howard also knows how important it is for students to learn different formulas and equations with real-life examples. This concept "makes lessons more interesting and easy to remember."

When the students were in the packaging department they learned a lot of lessons in a hands-on manner."This helps to show the applicable side of things," said Steven Jackson, CFD Packaging Specialist. "When students can see the principles they learn in class used in the real-world, it definitely gets kids into science and technology."

While the trip was a relatively short 3-hour event, employees who participated and shared their knowledge hope that they made an impact on the students' lives.

"This (trip to Natick Labs) definitely broadens their horizons because they all live in Natick and they've never been here before," said Barbara Zirlen, Wilson Middle School Student Support Facilitator access room assistant. "The students should know more about their community and how this community is servicing the world."

STEM comes to life for students who visit the Natick Labs.