Category Archives: Blogs

Connecting the Lab

By, Sara Munro, SEAP, Academy of Applied Science

High school students participating in the AEOP Science and Engineering Apprenticeship Program (SEAP) get mentorship, learn some technical skills and a whole lot more. SEAP delivers direct insights and hands-on experience in the breadth of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers. In addition, students also get a real-life taste of what these jobs are like for professional scientists and engineers working in laboratory environments.

When Adrian Henry, a quality assurance expert at the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) in Rock Island, Ill., found out that his lab was participating in SEAP, he knew that students would be surprised that their experience would not include a traditional chemistry laboratory environment. “Our work assures that the quality of chemical and biological defense equipment meets the standards set by the Aberdeen labs and sustains these specifications over the equipment’s lifecycle,” explained Henry. This means a great deal of statistics, report inspections and quality assurance measures conducted by well-trained and knowledgeable engineers and scientists. In other words, not a typical lab bench experience.

STEM professionals like Henry are an essential bridge between research and development and field operations for the U.S. Army. As a mentor in SEAP, he brought a mix of quality assurance techniques and career development to round out the apprentices’ work at Rock Island. “It was easy to come up with ideas to engage the students in skill building and professional development. I applied the same approach I use as a team leader to gauge their interest. I found it fulfilling to share my experience and resources to help them,” said Henry.

 

Secret to Mentoring Success

The secret to making the non-lab-lab experience successful was a two-way exchange. The apprentices brought energy and openness to learning, while Henry and his colleagues offered expertise and an honest perspective about life as chemists, engineers and scientists working in quality assurance. “We need more people in STEM fields and being a mentor encourages that,” he said. “On a higher level, this helps our organization, community and ultimately our country because we need smart people in these fields to maintain our global competitiveness.”

Mentors like Henry appreciate that the SEAP apprentices represent the best of their class academically yet are still figuring out what they will study in college. They are seeking information to make decisions about their education and career. “Every little bit helps to guide them to find their way to a degree for which they are well suited,” he said. To that end, Henry organized roundtable discussions with engineers in a variety of fields to share with the students the realities of their daily work. Students gained great insights from the candid question and answer portion of the discussions. For example, Henry shared that chemical engineers often work in rural areas because chemical facilities are not built near large population centers. A typical career counselor may not be aware of this reality and it’s an important bit of information for a student considering his/her future career path and lifestyle.

The apprentices got plenty of technical experience, too, analyzing quantitative and qualitative data and learning the quality assurance and compliance processes. The Rock Island team emphasized how the data, while seemingly simple, are crucial to the success of further research as well as active duty personnel in the field. Data review cannot be disregarded or automated with computer algorithms; it must be conducted by highly skilled engineers and scientists. Henry also added journal discussions from the quality assurance field and the Harvard Business Review to build students’ overall professional skills. Through readings and open discussions, students learned time management and strengthened their writing skills. He also showed them how to search government job boards and best practices for applying for positions. And with their final presentation, Henry helped them hone their research, briefing techniques and public speaking skills.

In the end, it was a win-win for all involved. The SEAP program staff received rave reviews from students about how much they learned at Rock Island and the students went home with a deeper understanding of quality assurance. Henry shared that he advanced his own professional development while mentoring the next generation of STEM professionals. “If you plan and prepare,” he said, “students will walk away with something valuable and so will you.”

To learn more about becoming a SEAP mentor, please contact the SEAP office at (603)228-4530 or by email: savery@aas-world.org . SEAP will be accepting student applications until Feb. 28 2017. For more information and to view the application, please visit www.usaeop.com

It’s Our Future: How Volunteers Power Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS)

By Doris Cousens, Director, JSHS

 

At the JSHS regional and national competitions, students and their research projects take center stage. Yet behind the scenes are hundreds of volunteers who make it happen. JSHS events are only possible through collaboration and volunteer contributions of thousands of Department of Defense scientists and engineers and university faculty. And, most importantly, local champions like Gayle Grant.

 

In her professional life, Grant has a very long title as Branch Chief at U.S. Army CERDEC (Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center) Flight Activity at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB MDL), New Jersey. As the expression goes, she’s kind of a big deal. To us, she is volunteer-extraordinaire.

 

Grant’s involvement with South Jersey JSHS (also known as South Jersey Science Symposium at Ocean County Community College) is an example of volunteerism that stands out this year because the program was actually at risk of closing. Without South Jersey JSHS, 350 students would not have a local symposium in which to showcase their work. Fortunately, a core team of volunteers—with Grant at the heart—helped save the symposium. She and a private sector partner, Specialty Systems Inc., were pivotal in helping us make the transition from Monmouth University to the new host, Ocean County Community College, thus allowing the program to continue.

 

Grant’s contributions to JSHS go back more than a decade, serving as the Technical Paper and Volunteer Coordinator during her tenure. In this role, she engages volunteer mentors from the Department of Defense labs and professional engineering organizations in a unique mentorship component that provides one-on-one advising to students. These mentors help students refine presentation content, clarify key messages and provide feedback on public speaking skills.

 

“I always want to give back in any way. I, and many other mentors, stay involved because these students are our future.” said Grant. “Mentors get as much out of it as the students. They see progress from orientation through final presentations and watch students grow within six months – and they know that this growth is due in large part to their efforts.” Grant has worked on state of the art technology throughout her entire career with the Army. And through JSHS, she is able to encourage the next generation of engineers and scientists.

 

The South Jersey JSHS volunteers have a long history of collaboration and volunteer contributions from DoD laboratories, including: Communications-Electronics Research, Development & Engineering Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, Armament Research, Development & Engineering Center, Naval Air Systems Command and Naval Weapons Station Earle.

 

What is success in this JSHS region? “If everyone enjoys the Symposium,” according to Grant. “And if we provide enriching opportunities to introduce students to careers that they may not have known about.”

 

South Jersey JSHS and the National JSHS extend our thanks to local partners who also make this symposia possible: Ocean County Community College (new host), New Jersey Institute of Technology, Specialty Systems and local government agencies.

 

Will you be the next JSHS volunteer? Or student competitor? To find your regional JSHS, please visit the JSHS website.

Teachers Bring Design Process to Life in the Classroom

Teachers want to strengthen their practice because we want to prepare our students to succeed. We want to engage them, and we want to bring STEM learning to life.

That is why I was eager to participate this summer in RESET, the Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP) devoted entirely to educator development. Through the program, I completed 64 hours of online learning and collaboration with fellow STEM educators. These sessions focused on the Legacy Cycle of Learning, which begins with a real-world engineering problem and is designed to help students organize and manage learning activities in the lab in a meaningful way. The engineering design process enables students to apply skills and knowledge from all aspects of their education from social studies, to science, to math and language arts.

I also worked on-site at the United States Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory (USAARL) in Ft. Rucker, Ala. with Adrienne Madison, Ph.D., and her colleagues as they established plans and protocols for their upcoming head supported mass research study. The study focuses on testing helmets for medical safety. Witnessing the collaboration in this working laboratory firsthand has greatly helped me teach and nurture collaboration in my classroom.

Following my on-site RESET experience, I returned home to Erie and led a group of three teachers in the development of a Legacy Cycle lesson that focuses on concussions and the science of football helmets. This lesson requires students to design, test and build an improved football helmet to prevent traumatic brain injury—a lesson following the Legacy Cycle of learning to engage students in creating a solution to a real world problem. I am now rallying my community to raise funds for materials supporting this lesson. I plan to lead this cross curricular STEM unit on concussions in my STEM lab, where students complete hands-on experiments to solve real-world challenges. I am confident it will go a long way in helping my students strengthen their application of biology and physics knowledge and skills to think critically, while using creativity, communication and collaboration skills.

All of these experiences helped broaden my perspective and ability to teach the engineering design process, a critical learning process for students that mirrors how real-life engineers solve problems. (The process typically follows these steps: ask, plan, imagine, create, improve and communicate.) However, perhaps the greatest outcome was walking away with ready-to-use classroom lessons that I developed with fellow educators. Being part of this online network of teachers from across the country has taught me invaluable lessons about the implementation of STEM across grade bands and STEM resources available at the middle and high school level.

How are you engaging your students through the engineering design process? Tell us on Twitter at @USAEOP.

 

By Lindsey Dahl

A School-Work STEM Balance that Works!

katherine“Sign me up!” This was Katherine Clohan’s immediate reaction to a GEMS flyer encouraging local students and professionals interested in teaching science to kids as a Near-Peer Mentor (NPM).

Gains in the Education of Math and Science (GEMS) incorporates very talented and dedicated students that work as NPM’s each summer. Katherine, a graduate student working toward a Chemistry degree at Auburn University, has always found serenity with a school-work balance.

During Katherine’s second year as a NPM this past summer, she taught neuroscience and forensics to sixth and seventh graders. It was rewarding for Katherine to work with some of the underprivileged kids. For some, science meant reading out of a text book.

“I had a lot of kids this year that saw how science was fun and full of cool things,” said Katherine. “Because the students had that hands-on experience, they saw that science was more than just reading out of a book.”

Katherine had a pivotal moment in her college career while working as an NPM. She initially went to college deciding to be a doctor, then discovered through GEMS that her calling was chemistry and teaching.

“I told the kids you might have a plan now and figured out, but you’ll get to college or you’ll find something else and all your plans go out the window,” says Katherine. “It’s OK. It’s OK to have your world completely turned upside down. Just find something you are happy doing.”

Even though Katherine’s doctorate program is 4-5 years long, she’d love to continue with GEMS by writing a curriculum, working with kids for a week, or even being a speaker during one of the GEMS workshops.

katherine2This same inspiration has kept Katherine’s work-school balance going. This past summer during her neuroscience workshop, kids dissected a cow’s eye. When most students were done in 15 minutes, they were anxious to pull everything apart. For one student, however, dissecting a cow’s eye gave him a new awareness. The student realized he found something that he loved.

According to Katherine, the students enter GEMS expecting a normal experience until they find an experiment or hear from a STEM professional that connects the student with science.

“Their eyes light up and now they can’t wait to tell mom about it,” said Katherine. “That’s what makes it good for me because I now know that I’ve successfully passed on my love for science.”

Outside of Katherine’s busy work-school life, she enjoys reading, road trips with her best friend, and her new furry edition, a cat named Mendeleev.