Getting Out of the Lab and On the Road

By Justin Jorge


I’ve always been fascinated with the diversity and intricacy of organisms as well as the hands on, creative nature of making

something. Through my studies I discovered biomechanics and biologically inspired

design, fields where my once separate interests of biology and engineering were not only joined together but built off each other – knowledge in one subject leading to growth in the other. While in college, I started searching for opportunities that would help me get as much exposure as I could to the field that I loved. I was very lucky to find a mentor in Dr. Sheila Patek through the Army Educational Outreach Program’s (AEOP) Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (URAP). URAP provides undergraduate students with an authentic science and engineering research experience alongside university researchers in a university lab setting. This internship blossomed into a position as a lab technician at the Patek lab at Duke University where I am currently working.


It was Dr. Patek who first encouraged me to attend this year’s Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology (SICB) Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Dr. Patek had helped me make strides in my research project, which explores a novel way of measuring the energy released during a trap jaw ant’s mandible strike. She encouraged me to present my preliminary findings at the conference and get more exposure to the field of biomechanics. She explained that the SICB symposium would also be a great opportunity to meet like-minded researchers and leaders in the field.


While I was excited to apply, I was well aware that San Francisco and Durham are not exactly neighboring cities. Knowing that I could not afford to attend without support, I applied for AEOP’s Travel Symposia Award. This award from AEOP and Batelle allowed me to register for and attend the conference without the strain of worrying about how I would afford to get there.


The five-day conference focuses mainly on the fields of biomechanics, evolution and comparative physiology and showcases research done by scientists around the world. As well as having focused seminars throughout the event, there were two-hour blocks where attendees could present their own work in the form of a poster presentation. During one of the blocks, I was able to present the research I had been doing at the Patek lab and get valuable feedback on how I could improve my experimental setup and collect more kinds of data. Since the conference, I’ve already improved my experimental setup as per the suggestions of my peers.


Before the conference, I was having trouble finding labs and research related to biologically inspired design, which is the field I am most interested in. This conference not only strengthened my interests in the field, but it also provided me with multiple avenues of pursuing this interest. While in attendance, I was surprised by how many biomechanics labs there are that are grappling with similar problems that I have when measuring organism performance. It was so valuable to hear about how they approached these problems and this new knowledge provided me with a new perspective on how to tackle these challenges. For example, while measuring the flight performance of a fruit fly might not be directly relevant to my work with trap jaw ants, there are a lot of research questions that overlap. Both study organisms are small and perform fast motions so methods on how to measure energy output and tips on how to work at such a small scale were greatly appreciated. Thanks to this unique gathering of researchers from diverse backgrounds under one roof, I was able to leave with ideas for upcoming collaborations and get unique feedback that would be hard to find anywhere else.


Fueled by this conference and my growing interest for this field, I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in Biology and hope to start graduate school next Fall. Since most of my experience lies on the biological side of things, I am applying to schools with biomechanics labs that work closely with engineers in order to make discoveries that impact the fields of biology and engineering. In the meantime, I am looking forward to continuing to refine my experiment and trying out the different suggestions that I received from professors and fellow researchers that I met at SICB. Overall, I’m very thankful for having had this opportunity to grow as a scientist and make key connections that will further my professional growth in this field.


From this experience, I’ve learned how valuable input from the rest of the engineering and biology community can be and have been introduced to new ways of thinking about my own experiment and my own future. I highly encourage anyone who is interested in a field of research but wants to know more about the kinds of projects being conducted in that field to seek out and attend conferences like SICB. With the Travel Symposia Award, you can broaden your search to anywhere in the United States. You would be surprised to see how many other researchers are out there that share your passions and are curious about the same things that you are.

SEAP Summer Reflections

The rates of STEM graduates are not keeping up with the amount of job openings in related fields. In response, the Army Educational Outreach Program leverages their civilian scientists, engineers and laboratories in the hope of instilling STEM literacy in students and introducing students to potential STEM tracks inside and outside of the Army. Working in Army labs across the country, high school students participate in the Science and Engineering Apprenticeship Program (SEAP). SEAP students conduct their research on base at eleven Army labs in five states, getting the unique opportunity to work directly with DoD scientists and engineers. This is a rare opportunity for high school students to dive into meaningful research and reflect on the breadth and depth of STEM careers.


Teamwork is key in SEAP as students and mentors work side-by-side. Apprentices learn more than lab techniques and procedures; they learn how colleagues collaborate, how to apply their education and how to tackle the daily expectations of research projects.


Learning the ebb and flow of “lab life” is an essential component to considering a STEM career – which is precisely why SEAP is a 7-8 week, full immersion experience. Students see how concepts they learned in classrooms are applied to real world applications. Mentors not only demonstrate research practices, they show how they put into practice their diverse education and passions for science, technology and engineering.


Apprentices overwhelmingly remark how SEAP has given them more confidence in their STEM knowledge, skills and abilities.


SEAP by the Numbers: Snapshot of Summer 2017

  • 4% are more confident in their STEM knowledge, skills and abilities
  • 2% are more interested in participating in other Army Educational Outreach Programs (AEOP)
  • 6% are more aware of Army of DoD STEM research and careers
  • 4% have a greater appreciation of Army and DoD research


Look forward to summer 2018 now! SEAP applications – as well as applications for other AEOP Apprenticeship Programs – are open. Deadline for applying is February 28, 2018.

Learn more about SEAP and our other apprenticeship programs




2018 Offers Greater Opportunities for REAP Students

In summer 2018, more high school students will have more opportunities to explore STEM careers and gain hands-on research experience in REAP (Research and Engineering Apprenticeship Program)!


60 university labs will mentor students in 27 states and Puerto Rico. REAP apprentices work on projects in well-known fields such as biology, chemistry and physics as well as lesser-known areas of research in nanotechnology and data science. The goal of each experience is the same: introduce STEM research processes and careers to students who represent underserved populations. Most REAP students have not considered studying STEM topics beyond high school. Even fewer know professionals in science, technology, engineering, or math. Yet by the end of the summer, they have a new perspective of experimentation and a better understanding of careers that will match their interests and passions.


What do you think life is like inside research labs? Decades of apprentices in REAP know the answer. Originally launched by the Army Research Laboratory in the 1970s, REAP is designed to do away with the mystery of STEM careers for high school students who traditionally don’t have these rare opportunities.


REAP opens students’ eyes and opens doors to a STEM future. Students work shoulder to shoulder with faculty, graduate students and lab staff who are conducting professional, high-level research. Apprentices know little about the field and lab techniques when they start but over the course of the summer they learn research techniques, run experiments and have reportable results at the end of the 7-week program. Along the way, apprentices pick-up a greater understanding of STEM fields.


REAP isn’t just about research. Apprentices gain solid professional skills too, including:

  • Presentation skills: Most REAP labs hold mini-symposia where apprentices present their research process and findings. These sessions follow the exact format that research scientists and engineers use to share their findings and ask/answers questions to advance projects.
  • Professional insight: REAP reveals how STEM professionals apply their education, follow their passion and stay motivated through setbacks. Apprentices see first-hand how an idea or problem to be solved moves from concept to testing and development to real-world applications.
  • Drive: Everyone appreciates how difficult science, engineering and math are to study. Apprentices see career professionals through the highs and lows of lab failures and successes. The drive and motivation are contagious!
  • Work experience: Apprentices meet the demands of today’s workplace. As part of a research team, they know that their mentors and fellow lab staff depend on them to be one time, work hard and contribute to the challenge at hand.
  • Exploration of new topics: Diving into REAP projects, apprentices learn about topics that they never knew existed. In the end, some fall in love with the field and some come to appreciate the work but learn that another field would be better suited for them.


Applications are open! Find REAP near you & apply before Feb 28



Mission Accepted: A Teacher and her Students Push Beyond the Expected

By Erin Lester, eCYBERMISSION Project Manager

Kathy Biernat is in her twelfth year of teaching Science for fifth through eighth grade at St. Mary’s Visitation School in Elm Grove, Wisconsin. After a dozen years in curriculum design at the Medical College of Wisconsin, she went back to school for a teaching license adding to a bachelor’s from Marquette University and a master’s from the University of North Texas.

Challenges aren’t new to Biernat who regularly participates in professional development workshops in areas outside of her comfort zone. She has been to Houston to experience zero gravity, southern California to learn about radio telescopes and aerospace research, to Connecticut for training in robotics, Lake Superior for a week on an EPA research boat, northern Wisconsin for No Teacher Left Inside, and New Orleans to experience science from the World War II perspective. She serves on the NOVA Education Advisory Board and the NSTA Aerospace Programs Advisory Board. These experiences energize her and inject new enthusiasm and relevance into her teaching.

Over the years, she has had 100 teams in the competition and loves the challenge it provides her students. Biernat says that eCYBERMISSION pushes students past the “potato clock” science fair into solving real problems in their communities and making a difference. Students feel like they are actually scientists and engineers, which can make all the difference when capturing the interest of middle school students.

It wasn’t always easy for Biernat; her first year guiding the student teams in competition was a challenge. She was brand new to teaching and had no colleagues. She didn’t have anyone to turn to, until she found the Live Team Chats. These chats allowed her to learn the process and gain insight on completing the Mission Folder, which she recommends other teachers take advantage of. As a result, Biernat also serves as a mentor to new teachers in eCYBERMISSION to help them through the process, and says, “eCybermission is perfect for any classroom – for the new teacher, the rubrics, timelines, worksheets and mentoring opportunities are invaluable – they help a new teacher to structure a meaningful science and engineering project with students.

“For the mid-career teacher, using eCybermission is a way to liven up your curriculum and bring some new excitement to a traditional Science Fair experience. For the experienced teacher, eCybermission is a way to help teachers connect their teaching to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which may be new to some,” Biernat added. “eCybermission promotes authentic experiences in science and engineering, allowing students to learn how to work together to solve a problem in their community and gives teachers the tools to help them achieve that.”

Biernat is also a participant in eCYBERMISSION’s pilot program: Next Generation STEM Teacher Program (NGSTP) which she knows will give her the opportunity to gain more knowledge about NGSS. Biernat will be able to incorporate more STEM standards into her curriculum and be provided a framework that will continue to aid in advancing her students. She will also have the opportunity to work with Army science and engineer experts, which will enhance the lessons she develops by making it relevant and reflective of current research.

GEMS program featured in Harlem Times

Throughout the summer, students who participated in the newest Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science (GEMS) program, had the opportunity to learn from engineers and Near-Peer Mentors; demonstrations of science and engineering reality that these aspiring engineers’ had only dreamt about before.  Located at the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal, NJ, GEMS’ newest host site drew students from across the state to take part in STEM focused, week-long sessions, covering topics like Strength in Materials, Design of Experiments or Engineering Design.  Led by ARDEC engineer Douglas Wong, these week-long sessions helped inspire future generations of STEM talent, empowering students through problem solving, hands on learning experiences at the U.S. Army laboratory.  To learn more about the Picatinny GEMS program’s inaugural year, check out this article published in the October issue of The Harlem Times.


Opening Doors and Creating Hope for Students as a Unite Host Site

By Marcia Robin-Stoute


It is critical to engage students from underserved and underrepresented communities in quality science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning and career exploration. Many career possibilities that some of us take for granted are not necessarily presented as options for minority students. They have no idea that they, too, can strive for and achieve success in advanced STEM fields. As a host site for Unite, a pre-collegiate summer STEM program sponsored by the Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP), we at Texas Southern University (TSU) seek to sow this seed and open doors for students to worlds they never knew existed.


Unite helps underserved high school students gain a better understanding of real-world college and career applications in STEM through hands-on activities across multiple STEM fields. As an instructor in the department of engineering, I’ve had the pleasure of working with TSU faculty and the students we mentor through the Unite program. Year after year, I’m amazed at how deeply this partnership benefits both the students who attend as well as our TSU community.


The outstanding benefits for students are clear. Students, most of whom are from traditionally underserved and underrepresented communities, experience STEM careers in action, firsthand. At TSU, this exposure has included student fieldtrips to the NASA Johnson Space Center and the Houston Ship Channel, to name a few. We utilize the faculty of all academic programs so students can meet STEM professionals from diverse backgrounds and explore a multitude of research projects, any of which might spark their interest in a future career path. Students work in TSU labs on everything from flight simulators to 3-D printer design to soil testing to engineering software. These experiences empower students with confidence as they realize they already possess the knowledge and skills it takes to be successful in a STEM career.


Another part of what makes this program unique is how it challenges students to think beyond the expected, and how it helps students build resilience in the face of failure – a staple of engineering design at its best. I remember a recent summer during which students and faculty conducted a lab experience to make what we called “squishy circuits.” Our TSU faculty showed up with flour, salt, oil and water with food coloring. All the students were convinced that we were going to make bread; they didn’t believe us when we said those very ingredients could fuel a light bulb! Students tried it on their own first, kneading the dough and connecting the wires, but they became frustrated when the bulbs did not light up. They were ready to call it quits. However, once the faculty explained how negative and positive forces work in conductivity, students followed instructions to separate the dough into two piles so the wires would not touch. They were baffled and so excited when the bulb finally lit up. I’m certain it’s an experience they’ll never forget.


We at TSU’s engineering department also understand that a student’s college attendance and career choices cannot happen in a vacuum; for underrepresented students and families, in particular, the financial burden of college can be a daunting thought. That is why we have incorporated our financial department staff into our program to provide students resources for financial success. In fact, a recent program highlight was a trip to Junior Achievement, where students could hear from experts about financial risks and planning for the future.


However, perhaps the most surprising benefit of Unite is the impact it has on the TSU community. Many TSU faculty truly enjoy the opportunity to work with younger students for a change. Many have maintained relationships with former Unite students, writing letters of recommendation for college admissions and keeping in touch as students advance in their academic journey. Our faculty also understand they are helping develop a stronger, better qualified cohort of future college students, regardless of whether those students end up on the TSU campus or elsewhere.


As a Unite host site, TSU benefits first from being the catalyst of change and hope for talented, curious students who deserve every opportunity to pursue the career path of their choosing, even if they’ve previously only seen those careers on television. Second, we have become a pillar of our community in large part due to our participation in programs like Unite that prepare the next generation of college students for greater success.


We look forward to another fantastic year with the Unite program and encourage every college and university nationwide to get involved. Requests for Proposals are now open for the 2018-19 Unite program. Join us in inspiring tomorrow’s STEM leaders.





AEOP Strategic Outreach Initiatives

Open Request for Information (RFI) for Partnership Opportunity with AEOP


PURPOSE/OBJECTIVE: The U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP) through its cooperative agreement (COA) with Battelle is investigating new and innovative ways to form mutually beneficial relationships with likeminded organizations and technical associations that have similar STEM goals, specifically serving students from underserved populations and military dependents. In collaboration with STEM partners and by sharing information, leveraging strong STEM networks, and building on already existing relationships, AEOP intends to promote its portfolio of opportunities to better meet objectives, maximize impact, and provide more enriching STEM opportunities for students.


Rediscovering STEM Through the Eyes of My GEMS Students

By Jordan Edmond

Every summer, students in fifth through 11th grade come from varying regions, with varying levels of experience and unique interests to spend an entire week on a military base. For this week, they are all scientists and engineers, experiencing firsthand what a military-grade laboratory has to offer. Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science (GEMS) is an Army-sponsored, summer STEM enrichment program for middle and high school students that sparks and develops interest in STEM among young people who otherwise might not give serious thought to these careers. With access to the latest technology and professional STEM practices, the GEMS student experience is completely different from what most students see in an average classroom setting.

I know this from experience, because I was once one of those excited students. When I was in fifth grade, I participated in GEMS at the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory in Fort Rucker, Ala. Now, all these years later, I’m experiencing that excitement again through the eyes of my students. As a GEMS Near Peer Mentor (NPM) at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, I can relive the wonder of a student witnessing amazing science in practice.

Back when I was a fifth-grade student at Fort Rucker’s military air base, the curriculum was geared toward engineering and robotics. I remember how I would lose track of time while coding programs for our robots, running to watch the code in action as the robots moved and climbed. Our mentors, who were all college students or recent graduates, would give talks during lunch, giving us all a glimpse into college life. Hearing from peers who were a little wiser but still our contemporaries made those college prep talks exciting. They helped us consider our options, showing us what we could look forward to in classes, introducing us to the different majors we could consider, from dentistry to mechanical engineering to biology.

Years later, here I am at the Alabama School of Math and Science, preparing to go into the field of computer programming, taking classes like Advanced Placement Computer Science, Data Analysis and Python. I was excited when I arrived at Fort Sam Houston this summer and saw the types of robots the students would get to work with. As an NPM, I’m able to teach those students and further my learning at the same time. I remember watching one of my first groups of middle schoolers as they nervously gathered for their first tour of the facility, their classrooms suddenly transformed from rows of desks and chairs to massive machines. There’s a constant motion of scientists flocking back and forth. It’s not what they’re used to seeing in their typical classroom setting, but that is the beauty of a GEMS experience.

I see myself in the students that I mentor. I can see the gleam in their eyes as they learn about what the scientists are creating. Different GEMS campuses offer unique curriculum bases, and at this building students were focused primarily on the human body, its functions and how we work to repair it. Whether we’re studying animal cells in hopes of finding a cure for diseases or sitting in the dentist’s chair working on molars, students are naturally curious about how things are applied in “real life.” GEMS harnesses this curiosity and turns it into a passion and focus for students who are eager to learn, while connecting them to professionals.

Beyond the reward of inspiring students, NPMs have so much to gain. School teachers work with one class each year, but while I’m here, I get to bond with four groups in a month’s time, which allows for plenty of experience with a variety of kids at an accelerated pace. Like a teaching assistant in college, NPMs can work with students and develop curricula for courses.

The best way to learn is through experience, and that is what the GEMS program creates. Whether it’s studying cures to diseases or working on molars, there is constant motion and growth. In small groups, students get to perform and seek answers to everyday tasks. In larger groups, teachers and NPMs alike work with professionals in their fields, connecting with individuals who are accomplishing incredible things in careers they are passionate about. At the end of the week, on graduation day, I can guarantee the students are already planning to apply again for next year. I know I was.

NPM and resource teacher applications are now open for GEMS. Visit

Native Youth Embrace Junior Solar Sprint

Each year, the Florida Governor’s Council on Indian Affairs (FGCIA) hosts a summer camp for Native youth hailing from across the state. The Florida Indian Youth Program is designed to expose youth to subjects they might not otherwise have the chance to experience. Students spend two weeks taking classes at Tallahassee Community College, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and Florida State University. Classes cover traditional Native artistry, such as basket weaving, as well as the latest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).


This past summer, the Governor’s Council added a bit of competition to the camp experience. Junior Solar Sprint (JSS), sponsored by the Army Educational Outreach Program and the Technology Student Association, is a solar car competition for fifth- through eighth-grade students. Students design, build and race solar powered cars using hands-on engineering skills and principles of science and math. They develop teamwork and problem-solving abilities and investigate important environmental issues.


FGCIA invited local business owner and advocate Shawna Newman to lead the instruction. Newman, a Chickasaw native, was excited about running the program. Through her business, The NDN Companies, she had been working with FGCIA to bring more opportunities to Native youth throughout Florida.


Newman and her students took a unique approach to JSS; to further customize their cars from the standard kit pieces they received; she took her students dumpster diving at a local teacher supply recycle center. Students used what they found to decorate, personalize and test their cars. Just as important, students were able to use their unique strengths to contribute to each part of the process, from finding materials to building and racing. They even strengthened conflict resolution skills as they worked in small teams to test their vehicles. Though some students were initially apprehensive, JSS ended up being a favorite activity for many students in the camp.


In honor of Native American Heritage Month, we celebrate—this month and year-round—programs that support Native youth. The Florida Indian Youth Program works with 40 to 50 students each year. FGCIA, The NDN Companies, and other organizations have been working to get Florida youth, especially Native Florida youth, more involved in STEM. They have partnered with Girls Inc., the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) Panama City Post and schools located in rural areas to expand their reach.


For more information on JSS, visit the “Programs” page on our website.

From Mentee to Mentor: Apprenticeships Come Full Circle for REAP Mentor Dr. Bayne

Mentoring apprentices is a full circle for Stephen Bayne, Ph.D., associate chair for graduate studies and professor at Texas Tech University. Among his many positions at Texas Tech and previously at the Army Research Laboratory, one that he treasures most is that of mentor to high school students in the Research and Engineering Apprenticeship Program (REAP).

Bayne’s education and career paths, as he reports, were a non-traditional. He came to the United States at age 17 and later joined the Air Force, where he served in the Civil Engineering Squadron. He went to school to earn his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and worked a retail job at night. Along the way, one of his professors saw promise in him and offered Bayne a job in his lab under one condition: that Bayne continue his education to a master’s degree. This opportunity allowed Bayne to quit his retail job and focus solely on engineering, specifically power electronics, one of the fields that had funding during the ‘90s economic crash. Power electronics are used to control and transfer energy at high efficiency. Systems such as solar, wind and hybrid electric vehicles all use power electronics for power transfer and control, relying on what are called solid state switches to modulate the power flow. These solid state switches must be able to block high voltage, conduct high current and switch at high frequency. This work led him to earn a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, positions in the Navy Research Lab and eventually the role of branch chief at the Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi.

While working on some of the most cutting-edge research in powering satellites, solid state electronics and power electronics, Bayne promised himself he would go back to a university setting. Once again, Texas Tech came through and he returned as a tenure-track professor and member of the Center for Pulse Power and Power Electronics. Back in Texas, Bayne reached out to the Army and started the REAP program at TTU. Since the inception of the program, 31 high school student apprentices have participated. “Apprentices come with some interest in engineering and through the program gain hands-on experience and excitement to continue their work in engineering,” explains Bayne. “We teach them some background knowledge and then design experiments that challenge them to learn more.”  The program is also strongly supported by TTU’s electrical and computer engineering department.

REAP is one of three apprenticeship programs offered by the Army Educational Outreach Program. Forty-one universities across the country host REAP through 150 mentors. This number is sure to grow with the help Bayne, who is encouraging one of his former graduate students, now an assistant professor at another university, to apply to become a REAP mentor.

AEOP is now accepting applications for all of its apprenticeship programs. Visit to learn more and apply.