Middle-school students from White Sands Missile Range, and surrounding communities, were handpicked to participate in a weeklong program featuring the installation’s capabilities that focus in the fields of science, engineering and mathematics. The annual middle school Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Sciences program began July 25 and will end July 29. This was the second year the middle-school program took place.
The middle-school program began as a spinoff of the high-school program, which occurred July 18 through July 22, this year. The high school program is hosted by WSMR’s Army Research and Laboratory and has been running for the past 10 years. The middle school program is hosted by the Army Test and Evaluation Command. GEMS Middle School Program Coordinator Mariette Mealor said she wanted to help start a program that would reach out to students at a younger age and expose them to local jobs in the STEM field.
“Because we now have a middle school program, the students are more prepared to choose their curriculum in high school and be more aware of the STEM college curriculum,” Mealor said.
The program provides students with a unique visit to WSMR’s Climatics facility, GPS Tracker at Condron Air Field and several others. Sponsored by the Army Education Outreach Program, GEMS is free of charge. Currently there are eight military installations that host a variety of GEMS programs. This year, 32 middle school students were invited to attend from a total of 16 local middle schools; nine schools in El Paso, Texas, one in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and six in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Mealor said the 32 students were hand-picked from over 80 applications that were submitted. This is the largest amount of students the program has hosted.
She said volunteers play a crucial role in the success of the program. This year there were two WSMR employee volunteers and Christina Brown, WSMR Garrison Commander Col. Dave Brown’s wife. The 32 students are broken down into four teams, each team has a high-school teacher assigned, the high-school teachers volunteer their time and are from high schools in Las Cruces, and a mentor, a students who participated in the high-school program in the past. There are four different modules in a day, each module is run by the subject-matter expert in that particular field, who is also a WSMR employee.
“I just think it’s a great program that allows young kids the opportunity to get interested in science and math,” said Nikki Jurado, a WSMR employee who volunteered for the program.
This is the first year Jurado decided to volunteer but she said she will definitely be returning to volunteer next year as well. Jurado also recruited a fellow co-worker, Arthur Villa to volunteer for the program. For the entire week, Jurado and Villa dedicate nine hours of their day to the program. Their day begins at 7:15 a.m. when they wait for the students from Las Cruces to arrive and ends at 4:15 p.m. when the last exercise ends for the day.
“These kids are a lot more ambitious than I remember kids being at that age,” she said.
Along with creating content that is rich in mathematics and science, Mealor wanted to ensure the students saw the bigger picture of why WSMR does what it does. She incorporated a military day on the first day of the program to help the students understand that everything they do is for the Soldier. The first day consisted of learning how to shoot a universal training nonlethal-munition gun, with proper supervision, participating in an Army exercise, assembling and disassembling the gun and eating military Meals-Ready-to-Eat.
“We show kids all sorts of great stuff we do here and tie that in to how we support our Soldiers,” she said.
This year’s program offered a new module called Ballistic Trajectory, the exercise, led by the Navy facility, taught students about the forces that act upon an object that’s flying in the air. The students would catapult a balloon filled with rice using a slingshot and tried to make it into a trash can that was set out a few yards away. After a first-attempt the kids would watch a video that taught them about trajectory and force and tried the exercise again to see if they would get better results.
When looking at the applications, Mealor said they chose participants in hopes of having a different range of grade levels and sexes. Mealor said they looked at how strong the application was, if the applicant completed the application on their own, without the assistance of their parents, and looked at their interest in STEM.
She said they were looking to incorporate more females into the program since a large number of the applications came from males. Cassandra Spaccarotelle from Indian Ridge Middle School in El Paso, Texas, said she decided to apply because her science teacher told her about the program and encouraged her. Spaccarotelle said she had heard about WSMR before but had never visited or known what WSMR’s mission was.
“I’ve learned a lot about how some of these instruments here are used and how they are rapidly improving,” she said.
Spaccarottelle said she hopes to become a surgeon when she grows up.
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/.