Army educational outreach to build science, technology, engineering and math talent helps grow the workforce of tomorrow
By Mr. Jeffrey D. Singleton and Ms. Andrea Simmons-Worthen
The Army employs more than 800,000 military and civilian personnel, 96,000 of whom occupy science, technology, engineering or mathematic (STEM) positions, according to Defense Manpower Data Center classifications. Of that 96,000, more than 16,000 are world-class scientists and engineers within the Army’s 16 laboratories and research centers. These scientists and engineers develop leading-edge technologies and advanced capabilities that give our Soldiers, the Army’s greatest asset, the decisive advantage in the face of our adversaries and keep them safe from harm.
Broadly defined to include jobs such as technicians that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, science and technology (S&T) occupations make up 21 percent of the nation’s workforce, and that percentage is increasing steadily, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. The Army and the nation have a growing need for highly qualified, STEM-literate technicians and skilled workers in advanced manufacturing, logistics, management and other technology-driven fields.
But the need for STEM literacy—the ability to understand and apply concepts from science, technology, engineering and mathematics in order to solve complex problems—goes well beyond the traditional STEM occupations of scientist, engineer and mathematician. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that in the next decade, 80 percent of jobs will require STEM skills, yet only 16 percent of college students pursuing bachelor’s degrees will be specializing in STEM fields.
Emerging mission requirements further complicate the challenges for the DOD STEM workforce. Multidimensional and cross-disciplinary STEM competencies are essential to supply technical talent in our research centers for emerging fields as well as to provide STEM-literate talent for the research and analysis work that the Army does continually across every field. In other words, the Army must prepare human capital for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t yet been invented. The success and sustainment of this STEM infrastructure depends on the STEM-literate community to support innovation, further adding to the demand for STEM talent and accentuating the STEM challenge.
The growing demand for STEM competencies, the global competitiveness for STEM talent and the unbalanced makeup of STEM fields have led to President Obama’s call for an all-hands-on-deck approach to the STEM challenge. Developing a highly competent STEM workforce requires partnerships among government, industry and academia. The Army makes a unique and valuable contribution to the national STEM challenge by providing access to its world-class technical professionals and research centers for students and teachers.
The Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP) manifests the Army’s STEM education strategy to ensure enduring access to highly qualified U.S. talent. AEOP provides a coordinated portfolio of STEM programs across S&T commands as well as government, university and industry partners. It offers students and teachers a collaborative, cohesive array of programs that effectively engage, inspire and attract the next generation of STEM talent from kindergarten through college, thereby exposing students to STEM careers in DOD.
Using the Army S&T workforce as mentors (either directly or through a near-peer mentor model), as well as our laboratories and research assets, the Army strives to build a diverse, well-prepared, STEM-literate talent pool to supply current and emerging workforce needs. This strategy, directed by HQDA, allows the Army to capture measures of success, identify program gaps, leverage resources and defend a sustainable STEM infrastructure.
A STUDENT’S STORY
A young scientist’s experience illustrates the powerful potential of AEOP.
Saumil Bandyopadhyay, a freshman at MIT, didn’t wait until graduation from Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School in Richmond, Va., to begin developing novel technologies for use by cutting-edge organizations.
Bandyopadhyay became interested in optical processes in semiconductors at a young age, after reading about photodetectors and their use in lifesaving applications such as car-collision-avoidance systems, mine detection, night vision and missile defense. After learning about the challenges of making infrared photodetectors, he set out to solve one of the problems: to create a photodetector that could work at room temperature. He immersed himself in research over two summers. Bandyopadhyay’s dedication to the problem, several days a week, resulted in four peer-reviewed journal publications (he is lead author of two) and a provisional U.S. patent for his discovery of a novel photodetector.
His research—under the mentorship of Dr. Gary C. Tepper, chair of the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University, where Bandyopadhyay’s father, Supriyo, is Commonwealth Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering—led to a new capability: a universal photon and particle detector built with semiconductor nanowires that can operate at room temperature and detect the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Its infrared detectivity is at least 10 times higher than that of other state-of-the-art equipment.
Bandyopadhyay focused on making his detector ultrasensitive, rugged, reliable, inexpensive and mass-producible. Potential applications include detection of buried mines, monitoring of global warming, radiation therapy and homeland security.
In all, Bandyopadhyay spent an estimated 1,600 hours on the project, all before his senior year. He immersed himself in research starting in seventh grade, including several years at the U.S. Army Engineering Research and Development Center in Alexandria, VA, through an AEOP high school internship initiative, the Science and Engineering Apprenticeship Program. He plans to major in electrical engineering and enter a career as a scientific researcher. By supporting Bandyopadhyay with the mentorship and facilities to expand his knowledge and allow him to explore solutions, we have capabilities today that we did not have just a couple of years ago.
While every student who takes advantage of AEOP’s programs isn’t necessarily a Saumil Bandyopadhyay doing cutting-edge research in middle school, exposure to the STEM field and STEM professionals is critical to growing the next generation of STEM-literate young men and women who will form the Army’s workforce of tomorrow.
Looking at the STEM challenge, John W. Gardner, former U.S. secretary of health, education and welfare, captured it best: “We don’t even know what skills may be needed in the years ahead. That is why we must train our young people in the fundamental fields of knowledge, and equip them to understand and cope with change. That is why we must give them the critical qualities of mind and durable qualities of character that will serve them in circumstances we cannot now even predict.”
For more information on the AEOP, go to www.usaeop.com. For more information on the STEM challenge, see the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce report “STEM”; and “An Interim Report on Assuring DoD a Strong Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Workforce,” by the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council.
MR. JEFFREY D. SINGLETON is director for basic research in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Technology (DASA(R&T)). He holds a B.S. in aerospace engineering from West Virginia University and an M.S. in aerospace engineering from Georgia Tech. Singleton is Level III certified in science and technology management and Level I certified in test and evaluation.
MS. ANDREA SIMMONS-WORTHEN of Camber Corp. supports the DASA(R&T) as a senior program analyst. She holds a B.A. in psychology from Eastern Washington University.
- Previoulsy published in Army AL&T magazine (Jan-Feb 2014 edition).