USMA Math professor earns DOD-wide recognition for promoting STEM education, outreach in 2022

By Meghan Dower-Rogers Academic Research Division Date: Wednesday, Nov 30, 2022 Time: 23:21 EST
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Lt. Col. Andrew Lee, assistant professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, recently received the Department of Defense’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Advocate of the Quarter Award for the third quarter in Fiscal Year 2022. 

The award recognizes outstanding STEM education and outreach efforts that advance the DOD mission. Lee’s mentorship and advocacy for STEM education, particularly planning, coordinating and executing West Point’s virtual and in-person summer STEM camps, has been integral to encouraging the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Cadets from the Center for Leadership and Diversity in STEM (CLD STEM), which seeks to recruit and retain African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, females and other under-resourced populations in STEM, serve as mentors, group leaders and hosts to the middle and high school students participating in the annual program. 

Since 2016, CLD STEM has performed more than 160 mobile STEM workshops across the country, supporting more than 3,000 middle school and high school students. 

These workshops demonstrate Lee’s immensely positive impact in West Point’s STEM outreach efforts and for the nation’s youth.

Brig. Gen. Shane Reeves, 15th Dean of the Academic Board, emphasizes the impact on both cadets and the community.

“These civic engagement initiatives are important to developing a love for learning in the next generation and bridging connections between our military and the communities we swear an oath to protect,” Reeves said.

“CLD STEM has executed these outreach events for years, and the recipe for success is twofold: Cadet mentors and competitions,” Lee said. “Every student that attended this event were not only inspired toward STEM careers, but they had genuine fun interacting with peers and peer-mentors.”

As cadets impact the success of CLD STEM, so too has the program impacted the cadets, even before enrolling at the academy. Forty-seven Class of 2026 cadets stated that they had participated in a West Point STEM event as a middle or high school student.

Further, the CLD STEM workshops are a unique leadership opportunity for cadets with over 250 participating annually in the programs, serving as small groups leaders as well as hosts to groups that attend the STEM Camps at West Point. 

During STEM workshops, they are challenged to teach and lead by example as they help educate the next generation. The cadets gain valuable awareness of diversity issues and receive excellent service, mentorship and leadership experience as they help develop and teach the workshops alongside faculty.

“In addition to learning about the depth and creativity involved in STEM,” the cadet-in- charge of STEM Camp, Andrew Medrano, said, “we got the privilege to learn about building teams and forming lasting relationships.”

The students mentored by the cadets also learn a great deal. The program aspires to provide participants with the confidence to know their goals are within reach with the right mindset and determination. 

As one 2022 camper explained, “All the hard work, fun times and materials that I learned at the camp have made my experience there unforgettable.” A parent went on to express how the camps instill the love of learning Reeves extols.

“My son,” she explained, “had an incredible time and is even more eager to focus his future studies around STEM related topics.”

Comparisons of pre- and post-surveys for each camp reveal a similar trend; the number of students that strongly agreed with “I am considering pursuing a career in STEM” rose from 35% to 90% as a result of their participation of the STEM camp.

The CLD STEM mission aligns with the nation’s need to offset the shrinking pool of talented STEM experts by increasing their numbers, thus enabling the country to drive innovation, compete internationally and protect national security.

This need is equally critical to that of the Army, which requires officers with a higher level of scientific and technological literacy who can effectively lead in an increasingly complex operational environment. 

This makes the impact of STEM outreach profound for West Point, the Army and the Department of Defense.

The Center for Leadership and Diversity in STEM is housed in the Department of Mathematical Sciences. Under the leadership of Lee, faculty and cadets come together from across the academic program to develop and inspire the next generation of STEM talent.

Departments and centers providing mentors and STEM enthusiasts on a normal basis are Systems Engineering, Geography and Environmental Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Civil and Mechanical Engineering, Physics and Nuclear Engineering, and the Department of Military Instruction’s Simulations Center.