Students from local middle and high schools in the surrounding White Sands Missile Range area received an opportunity of a lifetime when they were selected to attend the annual Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Sciences weeklong camps held at WSMR July 20 to 31.
This was the first year middle school students were invited to participate in the weeklong program which featured the installation’s capabilities in the fields of science, engineering and mathematics.
The program, which provided students a unique visit to WSMR’s Climatics facility, GPS Tracker at Condron Air Field, and several other unique areas, is sponsored by the Army Education Outreach Program. Currently there are eight military installations that host a variety of GEMS programs. Through the combined efforts of the Army Test and Evaluation Command and the Army Research Laboratory, the local program was able to extend the invitation to middle school students.
“We’re excited that this is ATEC’s first GEMS week and we wanted to come out to see how ARL was doing it, especially since it was a vision of ours to expand support to the Army Education Outreach Program,” said Army Test and Evaluation STEM Recruit and Outreach Coordinator Christina Bryant, who visited WSMR during the program. “It expands that pipeline when you reach out to middle school.”
Six schools from Las Cruces, including White Sands Middle School, two home-schooled students, and five schools from El Paso participated in the program. In total, 24 middle school students and 40 high school students participated in the program.
In order to create a content-rich week for the students GEMS Program Coordinator Mariette Mealor said they reached out to teachers from the various schools the students were coming from, and to ARL to see what could be incorporated from the high school program into a middle school level.
“It was quite an undertaking, but I loved it,” Mealor said.
Along with creating content rich in mathematics and science, Mealor wanted to ensure the students saw the bigger picture of why WSMR does what it does. Mealor incorporated a military day on the first day of the program to help the students understand that everything they do is for the Soldier.
“We show kids all sorts of great stuff we do here and tie that in to how we support our Soldiers,” Mealor said.
Butch Peel, an ARL GEMS coordinator, who has been working with GEMS for the past four years, said his role is very rewarding because he continuously sees several students visit their booth during job fairs. Peel said several students have told him they decided to attend college because of the program.
“When the students remain in a STEM field and end up working for the defense industry and/or academia it is considered an Army success with the Defense Industry Base,” Bryant said.
Peel said the program works to the local economy’s advantage in that students find an interesting job that they can be content with, stay in town after college, and feel fulfilled. He said he was excited when he heard middle school students would be joining the program because it is one of the points of emphasis for the program. Peel said he has often heard from high school students that they wish they had attended the program earlier in order to cater their high school courses to the field they wished to pursue.
“To reach these kids as early as we can, we’re going to have an even bigger impact,” Peel said.
Nadia Perez, a WSMR middle school student, said she joined the program because she wanted to learn more about math and science and engineering. She said her favorite part of the week was visiting WSMR’s Ice Chamber and having the chamber drop by 50 degrees.
Andrew Cai, a student from Lynn Middle School in Las Cruces, said he heard about the program from his parents and decided to join. Cai said the program helped him better understand the frequency of waves and get a better grasp on other things he had learned in school.
“It helped me experience different things and look at what I wanted to do,” Cai said.
Jael St. Hilarie, who will be studying chemical engineering at the University of New Mexico this fall, said he joined the program this year as a mentor because he loved the program so much when he participated in the high school week last year.
“It definitely opened me up to all of the fields in engineering. The program is fantastic,” St. Hilarie said.
St. Hilarie said he feels the program is great for college preparation because it allowed him to talk to professionals in the field he was hoping to pursue. He said he is excited that the program has now opened up to middle school students.
“They will have a wider range of scope because in classrooms you learn but you never really have that hands on experience,” St. Hilarie said.
Registration for next year’s program will open from January to May. The program is open to all middle school and high school students within the U.S.
For more information or to register for next year’s program visit http://www.usaeop.com/apply/.