People First: ARO's ReShockie Smith, youth sciences program, destined for rewarding job

September 22, 2014

By T'Jae Gibson, ARL Public Affairs Office

Detroit was still a booming metropolis for a pre-teen ReShockie Smith, and to her, it was an oasis. She traded her blue bicycle and mud pies for something rarely found in her morphing neighborhood: mathematics competitions.

She lived on a block with houses representative of a proud, working-class community but it was surrounded on all sides by urban decay: drugs, crime, and abandoned properties.

Still, outside the protective doors of her mother's house and her safe block is where she fell deeply in love ... with mathematics. And still today, she credits her success to a "passionate" honors math teacher who exposed her to a regional math competition.

Today, Smith introduces youth from across the nation to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in the context of the Army's mission as a support contractor providing coordination and administrative support for the youth science program at ARL's Army Research Office in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

Much of her work supports the High School Apprenticeship Program (HSAP) and Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (URAP), commuter programs for high-school juniors and seniors and undergraduate students who demonstrate an interest in STEM to work as an apprentice in an Army-funded university research laboratory during the summer or part-time during the school year.

She explained that a primary objective of the HSAP and URAP programs is to provide a mechanism to expose new students to research opportunities in the sponsoring laboratory, so anyone who has interned or had any other type of affiliation with a specific laboratory is generally not eligible for this program. Students can earn up to $3,000 for the experience.

"These young people will make strides in changing the world–as we know it–in the future. And it shows in their current research projects," said Smith. "They bring me joy beyond loving my career. They inspire me to live and love life. It's impressive to help provide a service to people that know at such a young age exactly what they want to do in life. It's equally impressive to work with educators and other successful professionals that can encourage youth by admitting they had no clue what they wanted to do at the same age as those they now lead."

Smith has been with ARO for almost three years and coordinates receipt, accounting, and processing of customer funds for the Science and Engineering Apprenticeship Program and College Qualified Leaders program as part of the Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP). But the journey to get here, while bumpy, she said, has taken her exactly where she's supposed to be right now.

"In 2011, August, I left my secured job of 11 years, my sole support system of family and friends, packed up the home that I owned, my son, and my dog to make a complete faith move to Raleigh, North Carolina. Other than the four years away at college–a hop, skip and jump away in Ohio–Detroit was the only place I'd ever known as home.

"But [by 2011], I was a single–divorced–mother of a bright, African-American male child and my city, his city, was deteriorating right before our eyes at an unimaginable speed. I didn't know a single soul in North Carolina. No family. No friends. No one. I didn't have a job and I'd never even seen my apartment other than online! My fear was strong, but my faith was stronger. When God says to do something, just be obedient.

"I had a plan and vision of a better lifestyle for us, but it was solely His will that carried it through. I went to the one place that every city has to find employment: the unemployment agency. It's from there that I found, applied for, interviewed with, and was hired at my initial job at ARO in the finance department," recalled Smith, who is a federal contractor with Bennett Aerospace, Inc., a Cary, North Carolina–based small business.

She moved into her current role in 2013. Smith said her education and previous career helped her land the position.

She graduated from Renaissance High School, one of Detroit's "premiere public high schools which offered a rigorous college preparatory curriculum within a unique college-like setting. It was at Renaissance that I learned about socioeconomic diversity. It was also during high school that my love of science began. I'm honestly not sure why as my science grades were pretty average. But I loved it nonetheless. I declared a pre-med curriculum and decided I wanted to go to college to become a neonatologist. I did go on to declare a pre-med major in college and graduated from Wilberforce University, Ohio, with an honors Bachelor of Science degree, but I'm not a doctor.

"Life happened. In other words, I got married and had my son, and I didn't continue to medical school," she said, but she did complete a year of law school at Wayne State University then switched gears back to her first love: science and math. "I've been blessed to enjoy a few other jobs dealing in the sciences before settling here at ARO, though. I've been a public-health sanitarian as well as a science teacher before moving to North Carolina."

In her current role, she reviews proposals submitted by universities seeking funding for students through HSAP and URAP for educational merit, providing ARO directorate directors with this information to supplement technical evaluations from program managers when considering which proposals to fund. She said this year she reviewed 35 proposals and received 170 student applications. Sixty-nine students were selected.

"I'm in constant communication with the students and parents to advise them of the status of their applications. After the professors that have been selected for funding have notified me of their student selections, I coordinate the placement of the students into the program. In the event that the AEOP sponsors are providing students with supplies, I coordinate those shipments from our offices. For example, this year I coordinated the mailing of more than 65 lab coats to 31 different universities," she said.

This is her busiest season. She's starting to collect student abstracts, or final reports, ensuring that students and mentors complete program surveys and making sure each student receives a Certificate of Completion and stipend.

Later this month, Smith will start traveling throughout the greater Raleigh area to visit local participants on site at the universities to witness students' integration into Army-funded research projects and to promote the programs. "My participation varies from coordinating volunteer judges to represent the Army at the North Carolina state-wide science fair, to being a judge at the regional JSHS competition, to supporting in any administrative role that's needed during the national JSHS competition."

"The number one impact I want to realistically make in my job supporting the ARO youth science program is to streamline as many processes as possible. Since I've been given some administrative flexibilities, I believe I'm most effective in that area," she said. "Coupling my love of supporting students, and people in general, with reaching their personal goals with the various skill sets my experience and education have afforded me, makes everyone a winner."

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory's new "People First" feature-article series seeks to spotlight the people who contribute to the success of ARL programs and initiatives. These human-interest stories seek to recognize employees' personal inspirations and the motivations that result in job performance, camaraderie, and customer service.

 

Last Update / Reviewed: September 22, 2014