ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (October 28, 2015) - College students have a lot of decisions to make: what subject to major in, what concentration to focus on, what internships to apply for, what field they ultimately want to work in, etc.
U.S. Army scientists and engineers are working to make the process a little easier and to increase retention rates among science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, disciplines through a new e-mentoring program.
The U.S. Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, program pairs employees with engineering students from the University of Delaware in a year-long e-mentorship in which engineers provide guidance based on their experience as students and professionals in the field.
“I've been in their shoes. I worked while getting my engineering degree, and I know how tough it can be to balance your schoolwork with a part-time job and internships - all while making decisions on your future career. Having the knowledge and practical advice from engineers in the field is a valuable asset that can help guide students down the path to graduation and transition into a STEM career," said Henry Muller, CERDEC director. "Educational outreach programs like the e-mentoring program are an important investment in our future. These programs underscore the significance of providing a larger pool of STEM talent for our Army and our nation.”
After receiving positive feedback on the pilot program last year, CERDEC worked with the university’s career services center to match interested freshmen and sophomore students with engineers working in fields similar to their major.
“We’re not targeting juniors and seniors because juniors and seniors have already figured out ‘I’m going to be an engineer,’ but freshmen and sophomores, they might be on the fence,” said Joyce Henderson, assistant director for career partnerships for the Career Services Center at the university. “I believe that the mentoring program would help encourage and motivate them to stay with the discipline.”
Students and their mentors are required to check-in via email at least once a week, but aside from that the topics are open to the type of help the individual student requires.
“We want them to enjoy the experience and not have to commit blocks of time to leaving campus or leaving home. We want to make it as easy for both sides as we possibly can, to encourage people to continue being involved in it and building partnerships,” said Stacey Lambert, management analyst in CERDEC’s Employee Resource Services and lead for the program.
During the pilot year, mentors helped students in a wide range of topics to include resume building, what engineering classes to take, the different types of engineering jobs available and help with their current classes.
“In addition to providing the students with encouragement, guidance and direction, the mentors provide students with the opportunity to understand how what is learned in the classroom applies to the professional work environment,” Lambert said.
“I first received the email over the summer about the program to apply for it, and as I read the email I was thinking ‘Wow this is probably a great opportunity to get ahead of everyone else that didn’t get this opportunity,’” said Kyle McParland, a University of Delaware sophomore and mentee.
The mentors are all volunteers who see the program as a way to give back, and help those whose footsteps they once stood in.
“My interest is pretty much giving back to the community and providing that mentorship so that students can understand the actual work environment and how their skillsets at school apply,” said Samuel Uagbor, an electronics engineer in CERDEC’s Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate. “I never had the experience to actually meet somebody who works in the field, who works there now, talking to me, giving me one-on-one advice on how to do things. I think if I did I would have done things a little bit differently.”
After the school year is over the official e-mentorship ends, but mentors are encouraged to keep the lines of communication open if the students need advice in the future.
“Honestly, I got into it because one of my soapboxes happens to be women in engineering and science. There’s not very many of us,” said Amelia Fortmayer, an electronics engineer in CERDEC’s Command, Power and Integration Directorate. “It’s sometimes a little different for you to be the only girl in the room, and I like to do programs like this so that I can talk to some of the girls that are in these programs and let them know that there are females in the field and that they’re supported too.”
Lambert hopes that the program will not only continue to build the relationship between the university and the U.S. Army, but also provide a connection to future employees.
“I think the greatest benefit for us is having access to the best and the brightest students in this area, or at least knowing that there are a pool of good candidates close to home,” Lambert said. “We can meet them, give them some insight into what we do, how we do it, but we can also help develop them and help them get closer to being that perfect candidate when it’s time to start hiring.”