White Sands Missile Range TRAX International, LLC hosted 11 local-college interns for their annual OSD-TRMC STEM internship program. The interns participated in a 10-week program during which they had to determine a solution to projects they were assigned, that ranged throughout different directorates and organizations, saving the installation time and money.
“There’s a lot of people working really hard on projects and they get sidetracked, then someone new comes in with a different perspective,” said WSMR Executive Director Paul Mann.
The students worked with mentors within the directorate or organization they were assigned to and presented the status of the project to WSMR leadership, their mentors, and TRAX personnel at the midway point and at the end of the internship.
“You are really on the road to something valuable,” Mann said to the interns. “We need to be careful not to get too cocky about our knowledge because sometimes we shut the world out. Thank you for all that you have created for WSMR, thank you for offering us some of your intellectual property.”
The common theme throughout each presentation was how their solution would save the installation both costs and manpower. WSMR TRAX International, LLC. Director, Operations and Compliance Patti Lucero said the projects were diverse yet relevant to the mission of their assigned directorate or organization. The directorates and organizations that participated in mentoring an intern included the WSMR Test Center – Range Operations Directorate and SVAD, Center for Countermeasures, the 746th Test Squadron and the 846th Test Squadron out at Holloman Air Force Base.
“The benefit to WSMR and other regional host installations is a talent pool of bright students who bring potential solutions through diversity of thought to relevant problems or desired improvements to their assigned group,” she said.
Lucero said the rigorous internship provides students a meaningful hands-on experience where they can apply their discipline curriculum and learn new areas of other engineering fields. Most importantly, she said it broadens the awareness of the test and evaluation career field and the Department of Defense in general by exposing interns to the many facets of the test and evaluation community.
“This is a way to provide a persistent talent pipeline to address emerging challenges and the high rate of attrition within the DoD,” Lucero said. “This will ultimately develop into a diverse and well-trained STEM workforce that can easily start to address the test and evaluation issues at the start of their careers upon graduation.”
Wade Seal, a STEM intern from New Mexico State University said he has had prior experience with government internships before but has never experienced the hands-on training he did during this internship. Seal, who was in the Navy for six years, said he understood how the government worked as far as processes and procedures but this internship helped him apply his knowledge and appreciate government work and the government mission.
“I’ve had internships in the past that were mundane,” he said. “Here I feel challenged and I am learning.”
Lucero said it is difficult to determine the absolute savings to the installation at this point. One project alone worked on the Mission Execution Planning Tool Set project that will eventually provide WSMR a more efficient Mission Planning Tool equating to efficiency, cost effectiveness and possibly significant savings to not only the installation but the customer as well once completed.
“At a minimum the work the interns did during the 10-week program can equate to an equivalent savings of engineer and technician salaries for the equivalent time,” she said.
Some of the students returned to the internship program for their fourth year. Lucero said there is no limitation to the number of times a student can return, the only limitation is the student’s internship performance and their schedule in the pursuit of either an undergraduate or graduate degree. During the 10-week program the intern’s progress is assessed at the half-way mark and then a final performance evaluation at the end of the 10-week internship. Lucero said a major intent of the program is to promote the test and evaluation profession within DoD as a career path for graduating students.
“Not only do they have the opportunity to apply their discipline curriculum to hands-on experience, they are exposed to the day-to-day life of a DoD professional and get the opportunity to network with senior leaders,” she said. “They get first-hand insight into the lessons learned and required attributes necessary of a leader.”
She said the success of the program is only attainable through the commitment and coaching of their mentors. At the end of their final presentation each student went out of his or her way to thank the program for the opportunity but most importantly to thank their mentors for the knowledge they gained and the hands-on experience they received. As part of their exit processing the students must submit an assessment of their internship experience.
“Everyone I met was very passionate about their job, they were willing to help, and impart wisdom based on their own experiences,” said University of Texas at El Paso Intern Edgar Bustamante, in his exit essay. “It is nice to know that the work I did throughout the summer, with the help of great mentors and coworkers, will contribute to the Safety of Soldiers. There is only so much a person can learn at a university, the rest comes from real world experience and I definitely feel that I leave with great knowledge and experience.”
He went on to say that he would definitely consider the government for future employment because his positive experience opened his mind to new opportunities in the government industry.
“(We’ve reached a key objective if we are being) considered as a possible career path for bright emerging professionals,” Lucero said.