Army Reaches Out to Encourage Young Researchers
In today's high-tech world, it is increasingly more important that our country establishes a stable force of tech-savvy students that can progress steadily up the ladder in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math – known collectively as STEM studies. Throughout the United States, employment opportunities in technology-related fields have become more complex, often requiring tailored training in specialized areas that involve STEM coursework. Recognizing the critical need for a STEM-trained workforce now and in the future, the U.S. Army has sponsored a summer educational program for the past 12 years that provides elementary, middle and high school students with hands-on activities in STEM studies.
Since 2005, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command has offered thousands of young students the opportunity to participate in various STEM projects through its tuition-free Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science program, which is funded through the Army Educational Outreach Program. In 2017, the highly competitive summer program was hosted at six USAMRMC locations throughout the nation, with nearly 2,100 students accepted from more than 3,600 applications. More than 100 “near-peer” mentors and teachers helped to lead the various one-week sessions, which are geared towards sparking interest in STEM studies while also helping children explore future careers in science and technology.
As a USAMRMC subordinate command, the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity knows quite a bit about STEM-related fields. With a mission to develop and deliver quality medical capabilities to protect, treat and sustain the health of Service Members throughout the world, USAMMDA serves as the Department of Defense's advanced development activity for products designed to protect and preserve the lives of Warfighters. It should not be surprising that most USAMMDA staff members are very familiar with STEM subjects, and many were immersed in STEM-related coursework during their academic years.
In light of this, comprehensive training in STEM subjects remains paramount to the current and future work of USAMMDA, as it continues to help safeguard our nation's military men and women both on and off the battlefield. While the organization continually seeks talented individuals to help support its critical mission, USAMMDA's leaders realize their work may last for decades, and therefore they hope to encourage young students to begin preparing now so they can become the next generation of military researchers and scientists.
As the saying goes, it's never too late, nor too early.
Recently, I sat down with USAMMDA commander, Col. Ryan Bailey, to discuss the importance of reaching this next generation of researchers. Not only was Bailey enthusiastic about the subject, he had much to offer regarding ways we can encourage young scholars to pursue STEM-related studies.
JS: What are your thoughts on the importance of training young students in STEM areas?
RB: In our current world, establishing our children's fundamental foundation in STEM-related courses is critical and necessary. So many jobs in both public and private industries require experience in science and technology. Providing STEM training early on will help to develop our future professionals in these areas. It will certainly set our young students on the right path for future success, as they move onto high school and college, and perhaps eventually to our DOD labs and workplaces.
I think many would agree that it's pretty difficult for a student to enter high school as a freshman without some knowledge of higher-level math. When that student is ready to take a statistics or calculus course, they need to be prepared with a basic skill set to succeed – a fundamental build-up is necessary to progress to higher levels, especially in the math and science fields. In my opinion, there is a great opportunity to build both the initial capability and enthusiasm for STEM studies at the elementary and middle school levels, and we should be taking advantage of this.
JS: What are your feelings regarding the USAMRMC GEMS summer program? There really seems to be a great deal of excitement from the young students each year.
RB: Absolutely! After 12 years, it still generates a lot of enthusiasm from our children, and leadership has to be very happy that the program is fostering such excitement in STEM work. With the Army's support of this great program, I think this demonstrates a clear understanding of the importance of involving kids early in STEM studies. Both the DOD and the Army recognize that skills in science, technology, engineering and math are critical to ensure that we have a ready military force far into the future. Another benefit of the program is that it shows children the future possibilities for careers when they're older. Our kids need to see what STEM areas can lead to, and how these studies apply directly to their daily lives.
For instance, many young boys and girls are very familiar with smart phones and tablets, which provide instant information and communication, but many don't realize the technology that lies behind these devices. It's very important to show them both the science and the power of our high-tech world – then they can think in broader terms, to utilize this power more appropriately. Looking “behind the curtain” can also help them to understand what it takes to troubleshoot and fix problems, to keep everything up and running.
But we should also show our young students how to combine STEM training with common sense, to make sure they truly understand how things work, and how things work together. They should be able to recognize how technology can enhance, rather than dictate, our lives. By reaching students at an earlier point in their education, we have a great opportunity to help them to be even smarter than they already are!
JS: That's a great point. You just touched upon increasing the knowledge base of our children, but are there things we can do to inspire them even more?
RB: Yes, I certainly think so. Outreach programs such as GEMS are a great example of helping to inspire our young students. Everyone should help encourage our children, because STEM studies are critical skill sets of the future, as the job market keeps moving towards STEM-related careers. Government, academia, business, the military – and parents – all have a vested interest in cultivating our future generation in STEM-related fields. Everyone should be involved in inspiring our children in these areas, as we all have a vested interest in securing the health and livelihood of our future high-tech society.
JS: As the USAMMDA commander, you have a responsibility to ensure your staff remains current in the industry, so how might early STEM training affect the future work of USAMMDA?
RB: It is certainly vital to USAMMDA's mission, as most of our job descriptions either touch or rely heavily upon knowledge and experience in STEM areas for the performance of daily duties. For our organization to remain successful in developing and delivering critical products to our Warfighters, we must be highly competent in these areas. I would bet that if you polled the staff, most would say they had STEM training, or at least interest in STEM studies, in their early years.
Reaching out to our children early on means that we care about investing in and developing our future leaders and professionals, with the knowledge, skills and abilities to succeed in a highly technological world. We're certainly not going backwards – our businesses, and especially our military, continue to develop more sophisticated systems that require a great deal of knowledge to design, engineer, support and maintain. We need strong, knowledgeable people to handle these tasks in the future. This training must start early.
JS: Given the importance, would you agree that parents and teachers must work together to help inspire our children to pursue STEM-related coursework?
RB: Without question, parents and teachers should work together on this task. Our schools provide great educational opportunities with STEM courses and activities like science fairs and field trips. But as parents, we need to encourage our children and their friends whenever we can. We can take them to the wonderful museums in Washington, DC, and our surrounding area, to show them the history of science, space, technology – the history of our world! When you think about it, it all comes back to science, doesn't it? If we all work together to build their interest and excitement now, we may be helping them to establish successful careers later.
My wife and I really encourage our daughter to pursue her interest in science, math and computers, and she is only in the second grade. Who knows, one day she may end up with a career in the science and technology field, but we think it's important to let her know that there are many career paths that girls can follow.
This effort, to encourage STEM training early on, is truly in the best interest of our country and its future. The more we can help to support this drive to help educate and encourage our young students in STEM areas, the stronger our nation, and our military, will be in the future. There is no doubt about that!