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: firstname.lastname@example.org . SEAP will be accepting student applications until Feb. 28 2017. For more information and to view the application, please visit www.usaeop.com