By Mr. Dan Lafontaine (RDECOM)February 20, 2013
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Maryland students will soon have a unified APG facility at which to explore the world of science and engineering with Army professionals.
The APG STEM Education and Outreach Center will be ready in late May, said Dr. Sandy Young, an Army Research Laboratory materials engineer. She is coordinating the project with ARL laboratory operations and other science, technology, engineering and mathematics outreach offices on APG.
Young said the SEOC will allow multiple APG tenant organizations to pool their resources to benefit students' experiences in science and engineering. The facility will accommodate up to 200 students.
ARL initiated the idea for the STEM center in August 2011 and began enlisting the assistance of other APG tenants in spring 2012.
"Many STEM programs have outgrown the singular concepts of individual organizations. The best way to move forward is with collaborative efforts, especially in tighter budget times," Young said. "You want to get as many people involved with a multitude of backgrounds and have a centralized location.
"We need a place where the scientists and engineers from the labs can go over and work with the students. That's what makes it unique. Students are working with Army scientists and engineers who have real-life experiences they can share."
Renovations began on Building 4508, which was previously used for Soldier barracks, in January and are scheduled for completion by March 31. Furniture and scientific equipment will then be installed in April.
Based on the U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program initiatives that APG organizations currently support, just the first floor of the three-story building is undergoing construction.
The STEM facility will house open classroom space; laboratories for computers, chemistry and biology experiments, and electronics; metal and wood shops; and a robotics staging area. The Army has equipment that is functionally similar for students to use but is less expensive than that used in real-world research laboratories.
Louie Lopez, chief of STEM education outreach at the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, said the center will benefit the Army's national and local programs that bring students into the laboratory for interaction with scientists and engineers.
"The center will further enhance our regional STEM efforts with Harford and Cecil counties and across Maryland," Lopez said.
RDECOM provides technical oversight of AEOP and leads Team APG STEM efforts.
Army scientists and engineers confront several obstacles when they bring students to their facilities for STEM events, Young said. The issues include requiring escorting, not being able to use Wi-Fi in laboratories, and removing sensitive projects as well as dangerous materials such as chemical or biological agents and explosives.
The new SEOC will help alleviate many of these concerns, she said.
"We've been talking for years about the issues with having students in working lab space. You want them to have real laboratory experiences, but there are hazardous chemicals and materials around because we are doing work for the Army," Young said. "Even if you have small quantities of certain materials, which is what is allowed in a lab building, you still prefer students not to be around these materials."
Young said she expects the center to be busy with STEM activities during the summer and on evenings and weekends during the school year. In addition to the SEOC's primary focus on STEM education outreach, it will also have flex space available to APG organizations on a fee basis for meetings and trainings.
APG is converting Building 4503, the former Dining Facilities Administration Center, into a STEM Café that will open this summer on a limited basis for students to purchase food.
Organizations that initially contributed funding to the facility are the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command; Army Test and Evaluation Command; ARL; Communications Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center; and Edgewood Chemical Biological Center. Other APG tenants can still contribute money toward the SEOC.