ADELPHI, Md. — Thirty seven of the next generation of scientists and engineers had the opportunity to tour the U.S. Army Research Laboratory during National STEM “Week at the Labs” March 2.
Lab visits give students unprecedented opportunities to experience the wonders of science up close and connect with professionals who work in Department of Defense and STEM based careers.
The week-long event is a White House initiative designed to inspire students to explore Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics by visiting the nation’s federal labs and provide students a close look at what it’s like to work in STEM related fields.
The ARL Technology Transfer and Outreach Office hosted students from Northwestern High School and Baltimore Schools engaged ARL’s scientists and engineers about current game-changing research.
Thomas Mulkern, chief of the Technology Transfer and Outreach Office, put the lab-Soldier connection into perspective for the students.
“The Army has its own research laboratory because the Army has unique requirements. Everything we do at ARL is done with the Soldier in mind and is basic research to support the Soldier’s needs,” he said.
Mulkern used the cellphone as an example to make a real world connection on the importance of sensors, batteries and materials used by Soldiers every day.
“Soldiers have portable electronics. After long use, those devices can be out of commission for an entire week if they are in the field with no place to plug their equipment in,” Mulkern said. “It is our job here at ARL to figure out ways to get energy to the field, provide electricity to power the equipment. We develop better chemistry to make the batteries in the equipment last a week, a month, and even a year or make it so that it never has to be charged.”
Lab tours and STEM based curricula offered in schools are meant to engage students in STEM through hands on experiences. While these strategies remain among the best ways to spark interests and connect science to student’s everyday life, STEM educators recognize there are additional strategies that can be used to increase access to STEM training, education and summer STEM internships for area students.
Ariana Stowe, program manager for the Vivian Burey Marshall STEM Pilot Initiative located in Baltimore, Maryland, participated in the day’s lab tours with her students. Stowe noted the importance of providing information about opportunities in STEM based programs.
“So many of our students are not aware that ARL is only 45 minutes to an hour away from their Baltimore communities,” Stowe said. “They wrongly assume the only places that exist are in those in the immediate area when in reality there is so much more.
“A strategy that can be effective in disseminating information is to have out of school STEM events like lab visit and Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science, or GEMS, more frequently in order to give students ongoing exposure. This will ensure that STEM programs stay in the narrative and that these opportunities exist for students outside the Baltimore area.”
The most important take away Stowe wishes her students to have from their visit to ARL is to see themselves in the role of the scientists, engineers and researchers they had the opportunity to engage with.
“I’d like my students to see themselves in the white lab coat working in the clean room or doing biotechnology research,” Stowe said. “One of the researchers we met today mentioned that she loved biology in high school and she just didn’t stop. Students must understand if they keep pursuing the STEM interests they have now, there is a career waiting for them.”
Precious Durojaiye is a ninth-grade student who plans to study and pursue a career in Biomedical Science. Durojaiye spoke about her enthusiasm after touring the biotechnology lab and learning about the different types of bacteria researchers are developing to protect the environment.
“It was great to learning how researchers are trying to create bacteria to help landfills decrease the existing bacteria and also the chemicals radiation coming from landfills,” she said. “It was very interesting in regards to biomedical, environmental and helping the health of every citizen.”
National STEM “Week at the Labs” coincides with February’s conclusion of Black History Month and the start of Women’s History Month in March.