ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (August 15, 2017) - For the fourth straight year, Aberdeen Proving Ground promoted science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, awareness by inviting 32 local high school students to intern in Army laboratories and prototyping, integration and fabrication facilities here, July 10-21.
The U.S. Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, and the Communications-Electronics Command’s Software Engineering Center, or CECOM SEC, are working to bring STEM into sharper focus for students who may not have the grades, education, direction or awareness of what work in the technology field entails.
The Real-world Internships in Science and Engineering, or RISE, program is the brainchild of former CERDEC Deputy Director Bob Zanzalari and former CECOM Deputy Commander Gary Martin; the pilot program was developed in 2014 when the CERDEC Educational Outreach Program wanted to expand extra-curricular opportunities for high school students.
“The vision behind RISE was to provide a paid internship opportunity for rising high school students interested in, or pursuing, an education in STEM, who may not have the opportunity to experience what a job in the field would entail, and thus, were unsure whether to continue down that path or not,” Zanzalari said. “By offering an intense, two-week internship, we felt we could provide a meaningful, in-lab experience for the high school students interested in pursuing STEM fields who might otherwise have lacked resources or inroads.”
RISE uses a rigorous application process to determine who gets selected to participate in the program. Students who are brought into the program earn it by expressing themselves on application essays and showing their interest in participating in the more in-depth experience.
“While many may think being a 4.0 student is the most important in being selected, there are other considerations,” said Erica Bertoli, CERDEC Educational Outreach Program team lead. “CERDEC engineers and mentors are looking for students with creative minds who are motivated to participate, and who have the imagination to take things to the next level.”
Students from Cecil and Harford county public schools worked with 3-D printing, scanned computer systems for malicious code and vulnerabilities, or set up virtual infrastructure for an expeditionary command post.
Josh Oltarzewski, a rising junior at Harford Tech, worked in the Command, Control and Communications Tactical, or C3T, lab, where he was introduced to the Army’s process of automating the computer systems that are used on the battlefield.
“What we did was went through the process of setting up a mini-data center, like Google or Apple’s massive data centers, scaled down to something approximately the size of a [speaker’s] podium using switches and servers, taking three or four days. [Our mentors] had developed a tool using code and power shell that will run everything, and installs in about an hour and a half,” he said.
“My cybersecurity teacher at school suggested working [in the C3T lab], and it was a perfect fit. Working with my mentors in the lab gave me specific tools and career guidance I can use as I continue through school,” Oltarzewski said. “I initially was interested in information technology, but found that computer science and engineering was something that interested me. I plan to study at Harford Community College after graduating, and transfer to a four-year college for a degree in [that field].”
The students also met twice weekly for leadership training, which included a session with CECOM Commanding General and APG Senior Installation Commander Maj. Gen. Randy Taylor.
"As Aberdeen Proving Ground moves to the future, we’re looking for visionary scientists and engineers to create tools that enable readiness for the American Soldier,” Taylor said.
“Being able to spend the afternoon with our RISE interns, who are potentially the future of our workforce, allowed me to share some insight on leadership and the unique mission capabilities that APG provides to the nation. Giving these student interns a ‘look behind the curtain’ may spark a flame of inspiration for them; and since technology is continually changing, it’s important that we come up with new and different ways to inspire people to serve,” he said.
The leadership sessions also stressed effective workplace communication.
“Many people have trouble telling their boss or supervisor, ‘no.’ One of the most important skills the RISE program teaches students is giving them tools to help them engage with leadership effectively and speak truth to power,” Bertoli said. “A good leader, in my mind, values people who are going to tell them they’re wrong, who are going to challenge them because you’re making the mission and outcome better. So it was outstanding for the kids to hear a two-star general say his favorite people are the ones willing to tell him, ‘Hey, I think there’s a different way.’”
Over the years, the share of U.S. engineers and scientists has declined dramatically compared to the rest of the world, noted CERDEC Deputy Director Jonathan Keller. Therefore, it’s paramount to get others excited about the opportunities and potential of STEM.
Based on the students’ speeches during the annual closing ceremony, he believes they are "off to a great start."
“The curiosity and drive that led them into this program will continue to serve them well as they continue their education. I encourage them to continue exploring their technical interests and to keep looking for opportunities that they are truly passionate about,” Keller said.
Rising 11th and 12th graders interested in vying for a spot in next year’s program can get applications through the Harford and Cecil county schools from late fall through early winter. More information on CERDEC student programs is available at www.cerdec.army.mil/student_programs.
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