For years the U.S. Army has worked to entice schoolchildren to develop interests in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Under a $17.2 million grant, Virginia Tech and partners will determine which programs work best not only in training teachers but also for children from fifth grade up.

Competitions, internships, mentoring, and science fairs are among the high-profile Army-sponsored STEM activities. The Junior Solar Sprint, for instance, teaches elementary and middle schoolers about pollution and climate change by putting them to work designing and racing solar electric cars.

“It would be great to know if that middle-school child who worked on an electric car went on to become a math teacher or a corporate physicist or a Department of Defense engineer,” says Vice President for Outreach and International Affairs John Dooley. “Training teachers and fostering public-school education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is part of Virginia Tech’s strategic plan, and this grant taps into our expertise to help develop that workforce.”

Workforce concerns rise from a projected shortfall in scientists and engineers, both at the Department of Defense and throughout the nation. The Army Educational Outreach Program piques student interest early, enticing more college students to choose STEM disciplines. Under Virginia Tech’s leadership, three important milestones will occur: marketing, data collection, and measurement. 

“The U.S. Army has long recognized that a scientifically and technologically literate citizenry is our nation’s best hope for a secure, rewarding, and successful future,” says Ashley Wade, youth science program manager in the Army Research Laboratory’s Army Research Office. “For more than 50 years, the Army has supported a wide range of educational opportunities in STEM for our youth and their teachers. We are excited to partner with Virginia Tech and other consortium members to enhance and grow our STEM education outreach programs.”

Virginia Tech offices working under the three-year grant are Continuing and Professional Education, which is leading the project; the Office of Academic Assessment; and the university’s VT-STEM initiative.

Partners are

Under Virginia Tech’s share of the grant money, at least three full-time Blacksburg-based staff  members will be hired, including a project director.

Virginia Tech has a long tradition of fostering STEM outreach programs. Among those are Kids’ Tech University, which exposes schoolchildren to fun STEM lectures and demonstrations on the Blacksburg campus; and C-Tech2, which offers summer learning in engineering, math, and science for rising high-school junior and senior girls. At the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville, Va., the STEM Mobile Learning Lab delivers hands-on activities to teachers and schoolchildren in southern Virginia.

In the last 30 days, Outreach and International Affairs has received federal grants totaling approximately $50 million, Dooley says. The Office of Economic Development spearheaded a group that landed a $1.67 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the Office of International Research, Education, and Development won $28 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory's Army Research Office mission is to serve as the Army's premier extramural basic research agency in the engineering, physical, information and life sciences; developing and exploiting innovative advances to insure the nation's technological superiority.

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