Category Archives: Blogs

Summer STEM to Penn

By Daniel Miller-Uueda, UNITE Site Director, GRASP Laboratory, University of Pennsylvania


In 2014, the University of Pennsylvania accepted its first class of Philadelphia public school students into the UNITE Summer Mentorship Program (SMP) in Robotics Leadership.  As we enter our fourth summer of UNITE programming, we want to pause and honor those students from our inaugural class who will be entering their first year of college this fall. They will be attending such institutions as Drexel University, Georgia Tech, Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, Howard University and Temple University, to name a few.


UNITE is a four-to six-week summer experience for talented high school students historically underrepresented and underserved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). UNITE encourages students to pursue college majors and careers in STEM-related fields through hands-on academics, enrichment and career exploration, while studying at some of the nation’s top colleges and universities.


One of those students, Anthony, will be staying on at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), joining the prestigious engineering program as a freshman in September. Entering an Ivy League engineering program was not a forgone conclusion for Anthony. When he started with UNITE, he was a quiet, rather shy, young man attending Carver High School in north Philadelphia who had dreams of becoming a software engineer. With little exposure to the field and a limited number of STEM courses offered at his school, he wasn’t sure whether he would be able to make his dreams become a reality. Thanks to his school guidance counselor, Anthony connected with the UNITE-SMP robotics program.


Through the UNITE-SMP robotics program, Anthony spent two summers building and programming robots that could complete autonomous tasks. He visited research facilities at Boeing and Lockheed Martin and received career advice from Army, Navy and industry engineers. Anthony successfully designed and developed a robot that could detect color-coded crates of waste and push them into disposal zones. The project was inspired by search and rescue applications that are common in robotics research.


UPenn’s UNITE-SMP robotics program is jointly funded by AEOP and UPenn’s Summer Mentorship Program. Each summer, 18 ninth and tenth grade students from Philadelphia’s public schools engage in a four-week deep dive into the world of robotics. Students learn about circuits, programming, CAD, engineering design, sensors and control systems. The program operates out of UPenn’s GRASP Laboratory, a premier academics and research center in robotics designed for student groups historically underrepresented in STEM fields.


The UNITE-SMP program embodies the same philosophy that makes many higher education laboratories such a unique and powerful place for innovation and groundbreaking research. Through UNITE, students like Anthony are given open-ended, inquiry-based, rigorous problems that require computational thinking to solve. Undergraduate and graduate mentors assist the students as they work through these problems and learn how to troubleshoot, analyze data, develop creative solutions and present conclusions to an audience of their peers.


For his final UNITE assignment, Anthony was asked to identify the one person he wanted to meet and list the questions he would ask him or her. For Anthony, that person was SpaceX founder and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. His question: “Once you make the decision to become self-employed, at what point do you change your focus from changing your own life to improving the lives of others?”

STEM-in-Action at its Best: Students Turn Ideas into Reality

Dimetrius Simon

NSTA Communications Coordinator for AEOP


When it comes to student-focused science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) projects in eCYBERMISSION, the possibilities are limitless. eCYBERMISSION is a web-based STEM competition free to students in grades six through nine. Teams of three or four students identify community-based problems or inquiries and then construct explanations or design solutions. Students compete for state, regional and national awards.

However, one of the most unique elements of the eCYBERMISSION experience is that student groups take their ideas and solutions outside of the competition and into the real world. As a result, the story of a team’s project can continue long beyond the national awards season—with the potential to create real change in their communities.

One such example occurred during the 2013-14 eCYBERMISSION competition. Team advisor Laura Tenorio and her ninth grade student team, called the Crabyotics, from the rural community of Taos, New Mexico, developed a bio-filter system that successfully removes antibiotic drugs from drinking water and addresses environmental and clean water challenges many communities face after residents flush or pour antibiotic drugs down the drain in their homes. It also helps to prevent the growth of drug-resistant bacteria.

The Crabyotics’ four team members used the resources available in their middle school science lab to research and then create the filter solution they had in mind. With guidance from Tenorio, the students tested their invention, and determined that it not only worked, but was also cost-effective. It even qualified for a patent. The team created a business plan for the development of their bio-filter system community project, and competed in local science fairs and competitions.

But the story didn’t end there. The Crabyotics team won the prestigious STEM-In-Action Grant, a $5,000 grant eCYBERMISSION awards to outstanding projects so that student teams can further implement their STEM projects in their local community.

Years later, one of the Crabyotics team members continues work on the grant with the help of two eCYBERMISSION alumni from other student teams. This new team has added to the success of the Crabyotics’ invention with a second filter using laboratory-honed chitosan (a linear polysaccharide composed of randomly distributed β–linked D-glucosamine and N-acetyl-D-glucosamine) as an absorption media for pharmaceuticals from water sources. They continue to gather more sponsors to support the implementation of their idea through entries in the International Science and Engineering Fair and the Science Talent Search. This year, the students also plan to compete in BioGenius and AEOP’s Junior Science and Humanities Symposia (JSHS).

It’s an incredible story. And yet, there are many more like it. Programs like eCYBERMISSION are remarkable because the benefits they bring to students, parents, teachers and communities are exponential. One mentor inspires four students to explore their passion and talents in STEM, and then those students develop and implement a solution addressing a real problem affecting their own neighbors and community. Years later, that success creates a ripple effect, allowing additional students to build on that solution and embark on their own STEM journey. All the while, each student is better prepared to thrive in school and, one day, pursue an exciting career path, whether in STEM or beyond. Of course, as a side benefit, they are also improving their communities!

Months or years from now, what student STEM projects will we see changing lives? Learn more about enrolling or becoming an advisor for eCYBERMISSION, and visit to learn more about AEOP STEM-in-Action Grants.

Sowing the Seeds for Big Ideas


By Alaina Rutledge
Director of Education
National Inventors Hall of Fame


I recently had the chance to meet the brilliant inventor JD Albert, one of the creators of E Ink, the technology which is commonly used in e-readers like the Kindle. Not only is Albert a profound inventor—and one of the youngest inventors to be admitted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame—he also made smart business and marketing decisions that led to his company’s far-reaching success.


At the National Inventors Hall of Fame’s Camp Invention® program, we like to share stories like JD’s with students as they create their own inventions. Like all inventors, given the right space and support, children can to turn their ideas into reality. We’re careful to choose partners that share our vision and also provide high-quality experiences and learning that can take our budding inventors to the next level. That’s where our partnership with AEOP comes in.


Part of the AEOP portfolio of programs, Camp Invention is an exciting, weeklong summer adventure with activities that explore connections between science, technology, engineering and innovation aimed at grade schoolers. Local district educators facilitate the activities and enthusiastic high school students serve as Leadership Interns, ensuring that one staff member is in place for every eight children. Throughout the week, children rotate through various modules that encourage them to work together, seek solutions to real-world problems and sharpen critical skills. But Camp Invention is about more than tinkering.


We know that learning how to do technical work, such as mastering prototyping skills, for example, is just as important as mindset, so we encourage our students to set goals. At first blush, this may sound too advanced for elementary age students. But at Camp Invention, we show children how to build prototypes using materials like cardboard, tape, motors, pulleys, LED lights and parts from broken machines. We have found that even though the concepts are fairly advanced, when we place children in situations where they can explore these concepts in engaging ways, they excel. While they’re having fun, they’re also learning about design engineering, intellectual property and entrepreneurship. Children take ownership and discover that their ideas are useful and some even have market value.


Through our STEM activities, children are exploring their entrepreneurial spirit and also the potential impact an invention can have for users beyond its original intent—a concept that is very important to the wider science and business communities. When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, he never imagined people would one day expand on the technology and we’d have smart phones. Invention also means sharing ideas, collaborating and thinking through the possibilities.


This year, with continued support, we are expanding Camp Invention to underserved and underrepresented students in Alabama, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas. But far too many kids still do not have access to these inspiring STEM and entrepreneurship experiences. The National Inventors Hall of Fame would like to challenge others to help us provide environments for children to experiment with making, prototyping and entrepreneurship. We know that with the right environment, tools and guidance, children can become great inventors and plant ideas to harvest in the future.


A-Ha! Failure and Success in the Classroom

By Stewart Wood, TSA Chapter Advisor


I have been a teacher for 23 years. In that time, I have found that there is nothing quite like working through a problem that generates that “a-ha” moment for students. It’s one of the reasons that after over two decades in the classroom, I am still passionate about being an educator.

For more than half my time as an educator, my classroom has also been a Junior Solar Sprint (JSS) site. JSS is a STEM program focused on exposing 5th through 8th grade students to ever-expanding science and technology fields including alternative fuels, engineering design and aerodynamics. Sponsored by AEOP and administered by the Technology Student Association (TSA), JSS attracts students to compete from across the country. My students use teamwork and problem-solving skills to design and build solar-powered cars. That means I witness “a-ha!” moments on a daily basis.

My students’ experiences with JSS have further reinforced my view of the importance of teaching problem solving. Students enjoy working with their hands and collaborating with friends on problems.  Each group of students will establish a rank and file with the student best suited for a job taking the lead in that area and allowing those better suited to another part to carry that ball. There is conflict, challenge and even failure. But the students work through it, depending on their own inclinations, what they’ve learned and each other. They also learn which goals are “lofty” and unreachable and which are reasonable. They quickly find that if they jump into the project without first studying it, they will fail and have to start over. The moment when they figure out just the right combination of adjustments that makes the vehicle’s wheels spin like a jet shooting down the runway to take off—that’s incredibly rewarding.

As a teacher, it’s wonderful to weave excitement into my classroom. Of course, I think STEM topics are incredibly stimulating, but not all of my students agree at the start. Some take a bit of convincing. Being able to teach with the goal of creating the fastest, most interesting, and best crafted solar-vehicle possible assures my students of some serious fun.

But more than just fun, these activities are creating new possibilities for kids from all academic and socio-economic backgrounds. Our school is located in a community with a high proportion of low-income households. Between 93-97 percent of our students qualify as Title I. JSS facilitates career preparation and goal setting in these students in ways that other more cost-prohibitive programs or projects would not. By the time the students have completed their vehicle, they have worn the hat of many occupations: engineer, designer, graphic artist, machinist, manufacturer and manager.

The most important lesson that we take away is that when you approach a problem, you can take many different paths to reach the end of the journey. Students learn they shouldn’t give up if the first try—or second, or third—doesn’t lead to the outcome they wanted.

In my opinion there is no better way, outside of being on the job, to teach a student to understand what a career really is than to immerse them in real-world application, as we do in our JSS project. Problem-solving teaches students to be resilient and to look both inward and to their peers for the right tools. I can’t think of a more important life skill.

Teaching Collaboratively: Accounting Meets Robotics

By Sheryl Kirby. Teacher, RESET 2016


I began my career as an accountant. But after many years in the business world, I realized my true calling was in the classroom. I currently teach accounting and sports marketing at George Washington High School, which serves a large population of students from low-income households in Philadelphia.


When I learned our school was hoping to offer a STEAM magnet program—a series of courses for students focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) with an added focus on the arts—I wanted to be a part of it. One of the most important things students gain from my courses is a better understanding of what a career in marketing or financial analysis fully entails. Math, the “M” in STEM, is already central to my classes, but our school community was particularly excited about robotics, computer science and engineering—disciplines with which I am much less familiar.


So, I was determined to find professional development that would reinforce my understanding of other STEM disciplines. What I found was something far greater.


My summer Research Experiences for STEM Educators and Teachers (RESET) program took place online through the Tennessee Technological University under the direction of Sally Pardue, Ph.D. There, I worked collaboratively online with other educators across the country. Initially, I was overwhelmed, but I quickly realized I wasn’t as far out on a limb as I thought. In today’s economy, almost every business venture relies on and combines STEM disciplines. And no matter the subjects taught, teachers and their students can benefit from studying the intersection of different STEM principles.


I was fortunate, following the online lab, to partner with educators with backgrounds in science and engineering. Together, we drew on our individual strengths to develop an interdisciplinary lesson that called for business students to work alongside engineering students. In the lesson, students are presented with a business need – to determine if a robot could perform a manual task better than a human. Then, students must compare the cost effectiveness of human labor versus machine labor. Students must also consider a few additional questions: How does each option address the challenges of today’s marketplace? What is the cost of building the project on a grander scale, and is it worthwhile?


It’s a lesson rooted in engineering design thinking, asking students to analyze a real-world problem, generate ideas, test prototype solutions and assess the results. And in our lesson, this design thinking takes into account the engineering and economic problem-solving critical to real-world tasks. The interdisciplinary lesson ends with products relevant to each discipline – accounting, engineering and marketing. Engineering students build the robot, accounting students conduct a cost-benefit analysis of human versus robot and marketing students produce promotional material for marketing the robot. Ultimately, all students are tasked with writing an MLA research paper about the project to determine if we can manage the process of improvement in a sustainable way via the use of the robot.


Though I set out with the goal of strengthening my skills and returning to school with a new STEAM course, my experience with RESET also benefited me as an educator and individual. Often, teachers don’t collaborate as much as we would like and I hope to bring more collaboration into my school environment. I also improved my own technological skills by using Google Hangout for the first time! It just goes to show STEM touches all of us in unexpected ways, and we all have room to learn.


Are you a teacher outside of traditional STEM disciplines? How are you engaging your students in STEM? Tell us below or on Twitter at @USAEOP.


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: . SEAP will be accepting student applications until Feb. 28 2017. For more information and to view the application, please visit

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.