Army outreach goes high-tech

Story by U.S. Army Accessions Support Brigade

Just off a sun-baked California highway, Soldiers roll their high-tech base of operations into a high school parking lot and greet future recruits. The message they’re sharing with the school’s students focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, and the role it plays in today’s Army, and the Army of tomorrow.

The Army has fielded an interactive exhibit to educate students nationwide about hard-to-fill STEM career fields. The exhibitors from the Fort Knox, Ky.-based Mission Support Battalion are recruiters, trained to answer questions about options and opportunities in the Army, both now and in the future.

The Army STEM Experience is the newest mobile outreach tool assigned to the battalion, part of the U.S. Army Accessions Support Brigade. From Fort Knox, the brigade manages the battalion’s outreach efforts and its rolling exhibits, as well as the Army Marksmanship Unit and Army Parachute Team – the Golden Knights.

“Connecting America’s People With America’s Army” is the ethos of the brigade. Its year-round efforts help the Army attract enlisted Soldiers and officers to a variety of military jobs, including specialty fields like medicine, the chaplaincy and Special Forces. The ever-increasing focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the Army highlighted the need for an innovative display, unlike anything the Army had ever fielded, according to Accessions Support Brigade Commander, Col. Mark A. Rado.

“Science and technology have long been recognized as the key to our nation’s future and this is the Army’s first mobile asset focusing on STEM,” Rado said. “This STEM asset is an exciting and innovative approach for the Army to connect with the students who will shape America’s future.”

From the initial design concepts to the engineering and fabrication, the STEM experience was produced entirely by Army engineers – further illustrating the engineering capabilities and opportunities within the Army, said Terry Keeling, ASE project officer.

The vehicle, split into three rooms, transports visitors to 2032. In the first room, video screens displaying fictional news clips from around the world surround them.

“The goal is to put students in a situation where they can’t say, ‘That looks like what I saw on the news last night,’ Keeling said. “The news clips end with an attack on a chemical plant in Eastern Europe.”

When the students enter room two, they join a virtual team of Army officers, noncommissioned officers and civilian scientists to develop new lifesaving, threat-defeating technologies. The mission is humanitarian-focused and requires students to use Army technology to complete the task.

In room three, each student mans a touch-screen computer, where he or she will select technologies to design a solution that alleviates the conflict.

“It could be an autonomous ground system, a robotics system or an unmanned aerial vehicle. When they submit the design, the final news clip pulls from exactly what they did. It gives them a summary of how their technology affected the outcome,” said Keeling.

The exhibit comes complete with Soldiers from the frontlines of the future. Sgts. 1st Class Daniel Adam and Matthew Oliver, who regularly pose with visitors, don futuristic suits patterned after designs made popular by recent motion pictures featuring the military.

“We have had tremendous interest, with hundreds of people at each stop,” said Adam. “Students, parents and teachers are excited about what we bring to their hometowns. The touch-screen computer work stations are the most popular parts of the experience.”

The STEM message makes it easy to relate to students, added Oliver, who works with Adam to brief visitors and move them from room to room. Branded graphics and a brochure provide a quick response (QR) code that drives visitors to Facebook, where they can share their experiences.

“We’ve gotten comments from students, parents and teachers that we will use to make the experience better,” Oliver said. “We’re interested in learning what they have to say. Our goal is to make this the best possible experience.”

Not only will the STEM asset travel the country, plans are in place to incorporate the content with goarmy.com so students can continue the experience online.

“In addition, we are working with RDECOM (Research, Development and Engineering Command) to develop a curriculum that will be given to schools we visit, so teachers can continue the discussion in their classrooms,” Keeling added. The curriculum will build upon students’ STEM-based experiences with lessons tied to science, technology, engineering and math.

The battalion unveiled the ASE, Jan. 6, at the 2012 Army All American Bowl in San Antonio. It has since hit the road for multiple school visits and public venues like the Chicago Auto Show.

Although the MSB will maintain the vehicle and manage its schedule, Keeling said the vehicle is a total Army recruiting asset and will also support STEM-specific outreach efforts to motivate both students and current Soldiers to seek out Army civil engineering and science positions.

Parents, students and local officials interested in an Army STEM Experience visit should contact their local Army recruiting office. To view a video about the STEM Experience, visit http://tinyurl.com/6qhlyky.

To visit the Army STEM Experience on Facebook, log on to http://www.facebook.com/pages/Army-STEM-Experience/233215746748332, or type “Army STEM Experience” in the search field. More information about U.S. Army Accessions Support Brigade and its mission are available at http://www.usarec.army.mil/asb/ or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/AccessionsSupportBrigade.