Are you ready for the Apprentice?

Commentary by Dr. Rose Pesce-Rodriguez

May 12, 2016

No, this isn't a story about reality television. We're talking about the U.S. Army Research Laboratory Apprentice – specifically in the Science and Engineering Apprentice Program, known as SEAP.

The program used to be fairly strong at ARL, but in the past few years has become less attractive to mentors. There may be several reasons for this.

Scientists and engineers willing to give time to work with a student generally prefer to invest that time with an undergraduate or graduate student who will likely be more productive than a high school student. There's also the heavy administrative burden for division and branch admins and mentors. These two reasons alone are enough to make most potential mentors say "No Thanks!"

But decreasing interest among mentors is contrasted with an increasing interest among applicants. The 2016 list of applicants shows a nearly 50-percent increase over last year, with a surprising 40 percent of applicants from out of state and across the country.

The cause for the increased interest isn't clear, but is presumably related to publicity related to ARL Open Campus initiatives and the U.S. Army Educational Opportunities Program. Whatever the reason, students want to come to ARL for summer internships.

Where does this leave the laboratory?

On one hand we have talented students who want to come to ARL. A quick look at the list of applicants shows that the students are very ambitious and take their education seriously. Most have several advanced placement classes to their credit.

Accepting these students as apprentices would be great not only for them, but for our mission and image too, especially considering that behind every student are parents and educators who will also learn about ARL and the great things we do.

On the other hand we have ARL scientists and engineers who could certainly inspire, educate and get good work done by apprentices, but who are understandably not inclined to pick them up.

At a recent quarterly meeting of ARL upper management --the "Super Q" -- a request was made that ARL either embrace the apprentice program or let it die.

ARL Director Dr. Thomas Russell's decision was not only to keep the program going, but to strengthen it.

He challenged the lab to pick-up 100 apprentices this summer, and further recommended that we enlist the help of our postdoctoral fellows to help us meet this goal.

His suggestion was based on comments by the co-chairs of the ARL Postdoc Association who indicated that postdocs want to serve as mentors. It's not too late to pick up a summer apprentice, but mentors will need to take action quickly. Here is a short list of things to do.

  • Complete mentoring training (review PowerPoint slides and take a quiz). Ask your branch admin to add the training to your TED Mandatory training. Send training certificate to Isabel Llerena (
  • If you don't have a C-NACI clearance, contact ARL Security to initiate. The guidance is that every student under 18 must be in line-of-sight of someone with a C-CACI clearance. (It doesn't have to be the mentor).
  • Transfer funds for the apprentice following guidance in the mentor training
  • Review the list of students (sent to you upon completion of mentor training)
  • Interview the student, confirm interest and availability. Make sure she or he understands that ARL does not provide housing. (Students from out of the area might want to join the Google Group to try to find something. Contact Larry Holmes (WMRD; about this.)
  • Prepare for in-processing as for any new student.
  • Follow other guidance on serving as mentor as given in Mentor training, including having a project and materials ready for your apprentice when she or he arrives.

It seems like this would be an opportunity to bring in a lot of enthusiastic, ambitious young people to ARL. Perhaps our scientists and engineers will also give a second thought to picking up an apprentice this summer.

Editor's note: Dr. Rose Pesce-Rodriguez is a research chemist in WMRD and is very involved STEM outreach. She is currently serving as the ARL Fellows liaison to the summer student program.


Last Update / Reviewed: May 12, 2016