ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (August 26, 2015) - Summertime for children used to mean time to put away the books and spend their days playing with friends in the neighborhood and local pool or swimming hole. These days, with technology tracking calories and exercise on smart watches, to cars parking themselves, children also spend their free time much differently, usually congregating in the living rooms of their friends with the most, and latest, gadgets.
The Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center has been using its Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, camp experience to bring more than 10 thousand young minds into its "living room" each summer since 1995.
"The Army Educational outreach program has been activating the minds of local students through the use of educational exercises developed to given them a deeper understanding of the world around them," said Erica Bertoli, CERDEC Outreach program coordinator.
"The camp is aimed at reaching the kids at their grade level with a weekly theme," she said.
This year’s themes included Lego robotics, evolution of communication and sporting physics. The program is extremely popular with the local community, and these spots are scooped up quickly, just like tickets for a sold-out show, she said. "When we start taking reservations in February, we're generally out of openings by the afternoon of the first day."
The benefits are readily apparent, with bright minds standing out in a crowd, especially during the week of sports physics for 6th-7th grade students, said Kevin Boyle, chief technical officer for CERDEC's Intelligence & Information Warfare Directorate, who spoke highly of his experience talking to the group.
"I was asked to talk about my experience with playing baseball and how it connects to my aerospace degree, so I discussed the aerodynamics and how those engineering tools relate to the game,” Boyle said.
"Those kids were pretty sharp. For their grade level, talking about the boundary layer of air, and the dynamics of drag, lift and gravity components (on the baseball) is a somewhat complex step from knowing what a fastball or curveball is. They really picked up on that. I noticed that when I was describing it, several of the kids immediately got it. When I asked a question, three or four hands went up, and they could go back and answer why things did what they did," he said.
For the past five years, Jack van Syckle has been a summer camp student and this summer he continued his experience with the sports physics camp.
“Each year, I’ve studied different topics and conducted experiments that taught us in an exciting and fun way,” he said. “In addition, I learned how to effectively work with others, because we always worked in group settings for our experiments. I enjoyed the engineering experience at camp so much that I enrolled in the engineering program at C. Milton Wright High School.”
The final week's theme was a STEM "Shark Tank," modeled after ABC’s primetime television show aimed at giving ambitious entrepreneurs an outlet to present breakthrough business concepts. Eighth-9th graders were given background on the history of communication, going back to the development of Morse code and telegraph lines and then brought forward through to current wireless technologies.
"Then the kids were given the challenge of thinking about 'what's next?' Where do they see the next technology advances being made?" said Bertoli.
From manipulating virtual Computer Aided Design by hand to a real-time conversation translator, the students presented their business proposals to the subject matter expert “Sharks” and handled questions that explored their innovative ideas with an eye for detail.
According to the Shark Tank team, consisting of Bob Zanzalari, associate director of CERDEC, Mary Ann Wills, chief engineer of CERDEC I2WD, Mike Hannon, senior Information Assurance manager for CERDEC, and Sgt. 1st Class James Throne, senior enlisted advisor for CERDEC, the students rose to the challenge and envisioned several imaginative yet viable options from beyond their age group.
“Some of the questions we asked would’ve been difficult for degreed engineers to handle, but the kids' excitement demonstrated commitment to their concepts,” Zanzalari said.
"Being part of the Army's science and technology community positions us to be on the cutting edge of developing equipment our Warfighters need. The STEM program allows us to use our resources to develop interest in kids today who will go on to become future scientists and engineers from right here in our own community,” he said. "CERDEC's enthusiasm for STEM is driven by seeing the imagination of students being put to task and the realization by them that there is no limit to what they can achieve.”
Media inquiries may be directed to the CERDEC Corporate and Public Communication Office.