September 17, 2012
By David McNally, RDECOM
The U.S. Military Academy educates and trains future Army leaders. The school produces 19 percent of the Army’s officers each year, but officials said they account for 75 percent of those with STEM degrees — Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics.
The school partners with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command for internships, funding and special projects. Leaders from across the Army’s technology command met at the school Sept. 11, to discuss enhancing their partnership.
“As what we give to Soldiers becomes more technologically complex, it becomes even more important that officers have a strong foundation in math, science and engineering to understand the basis for these systems,” said RDECOM Director Dale A. Ormond. “As you increase the technical complexity of the equipment you use, it’s very important to have technical competence.”
Military and civilian leaders from across RDECOM used West Point facilities to conduct a board of directors meeting. They also received briefings from school faculty, classroom tours and met with cadets interested in science and technology.
“What I’ve been really impressed with during this visit is that Mr. Ormond gets it,” said Col. John Graham, USMA associate dean for research. “His tech directors have, by themselves, formed relationships with my scientists, so his command has through personal relationships, through professional relationships, strongly tied into West Point. So that’s not new. What’s new is Mr. Ormond being here saying, ‘Hey, I want the tech directors to work together and see if we can find the way to bring this to the next level.'”
The academy produces leaders and thinkers. In class, cadets learn skills necessary for tomorrow’s Army.
“I had the opportunity to sit in on a physics class, which by the way brought back memories,” said Gerardo Melendez, Ph.D., Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center technical director. “It was very interesting to see the way they teach the curriculum with the emphasis on practical exercises.”
Melendez regularly welcomes cadets for internships to his laboratories and research facilities at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J.
“It’s amazing when you look at what goes on here,” he said. “You have this idea of not only shaping the mind, but the person as a whole, so the notion of technical prowess, the research that goes into it, the academics part, but also the physical aspect of the cadet.”
The academy’s research activities also deal with real-world challenges, which offer cadets an opportunity to contribute. For example, Cadet Jeffrey Nielsen completed a summer project developing intelligent algorithms to locate potential terrorist targets in Afghanistan and to help Soldiers find improvised explosive device weapons caches. Nielsen is one of hundreds of future leaders finding ways to contribute today through science and technology.
“In terms of the state-of-the-art facilities, the labs and the fact that their faculty is spending a lot of their time doing research; you would normally not expect that in an undergraduate degree program like West Point,” Ormond said. “From what I’ve seen, the cadets are very energetic, very engaged and want to know what’s going on as they look to solve problems.”
Ormond said the visit was an eye-opener to potential courses of action.
“What I think we can do is to get more of these students into our laboratories and help to foster these STEM degrees and appreciation for technology,” Ormond said. “I would love to see some of their professors, who have Ph.D.s — military officers, work in our labs for a couple of years, do research and come back and teach. This helps to create technical competence in their faculty, keeping them closer to the state-of-the-art. Having their students come to our labs and work gives the Army and its officers a better appreciation for what we do and how we can contribute to the fight.”