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Army Lab summer students gain real world defense experience

Fri, 08/03/2012 - 12:00am
U.S. Army

ADELPHI, Md. (Aug. 6, 2012) -- Students who visit the U.S. Army Research Laboratory as summer interns may be surprised to find themselves working on research projects projecting Soldiers' needs far into the future.

Others of the 250 high school, undergraduate and graduate students who are part of the educational outreach programs at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, known as ARL, are participating for the first time and may not know what to expect.

"I just knew I wanted to be challenged," said Eric Turner, a rising senior who studies electrical engineering at Howard University in Washington, D.C. "I have been around the military all of my life, but recently I became interested in the defense industry. I want to be part of a good research experience that allows me to publish [a paper] before graduate school."

Turner was working on his research in the laboratory the same week he arrived. He and three other students will continue with the Radio Frequency Signal Processing and Modeling Branch for 12 weeks.

Students come from the local area and as far as west as Texas or Utah for several summer programs including: The Science and Engineering Apprentice Program, Career Related Experience in Science and Technology, Directed Energy Internships in Laser Science and Technology, Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation, or SMART, Program and Science Outreach for Army Research.

"ARL has a rich history of supporting STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] outreach," said Vallen Emery, outreach and small business program manager, ARL. "It is important that we give students the opportunity to practice theory. We also want them to leave with a real grasp of how Army innovations keep Soldiers prepared on the battlefield."

Part of the lab mission is to provide the facilities and share vital pieces of what ARL scientists and engineers do through researchers' mentorship, Emery said.

Senior leaders like Colleen Adams take the charge to share knowledge to heart.

"I don't think you learn by walking behind someone and watching what they do. You have to be able to see and touch it," said Adams, High Performance Computing Networking Branch chief in the Computational and Information Sciences Directorate. "The interns get hands-on exposure they would not normally get in a learning environment -- and they get paid for it."

Interns in her branch are involved with project management, they work with ARL engineers and based on their exposure, sometimes they want to experience other projects, Adams said.

"We figure out a way to accommodate avenues they would like to explore," said Adams, who has been involved in ARL educational outreach for 10 years. Mentorship does take you from the "daily grind," but "it is extremely important for us to pull these young people along. It allows them to figure out a path that is right for them."

In the constantly changing field of computer technology, students seek out opportunities for diversity.

"I have gained so much experience to boost my resume," said Zamon Granger, an electronics engineer who recently came to work with the High Performance Computing Networking Branch following several years in educational outreach programs. "When I first came here I just wanted to be an intern. I did not have any idea what direction to go for a graduate degree."

The computer engineering major started at Jackson State University in Mississippi, and accepted a computer network summer internship. He ultimately stayed with ARL and went on to graduate school at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

"I felt like ARL would give me a good start," Granger said. "Everybody wants you to know what they are doing. The teams collaborate."

Selena Lowry, a rising junior at the University of Maryland University College, started out attending a community college as a math major, but after talking to Adams about her career as a first-year intern, decided computer networking and security was a better fit.

"I was in awe," Lowry said. "I didn't know what a firewall switch was, but I learned fast."

The summer program selection board looks for candidates who demonstrate quick learning ability, a solid contribution to lab projects, and the willingness to work in teams, said Anders Sullivan, chief of the Radio Frequency Signal Processing and Modeling Branch of the Sensors and Electron Devices Directorate.

"We get a lot of resumes from already very bright students with high grade point averages," Sullivan said. "What we provide them is a research lab experience, which can be win-win whether they wind up in defense or not."

Philip Saponaro, a graduate research assistant who is studying computer science at the University of Delaware in Newark, Del., said he hopes to start a technology company that specializes in facial recognition applications for smart phones.

His summer research focus of taking radar images and real-time video and merging the two so the image points of interest are evident in the video "is a step in the right direction," Saponaro said.

Summer students will present research at the ARL Summer Student Symposium from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Aug. 9 in the Adelphi Laboratory Center auditorium. For more information about the ARL Student Programs, visit www.arl.army.mil and click Student Programs on the left side of the page.

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