megaGEMS AEOP Internship Programs Inspire Next Generation of Women in STEM

July 1, 2022

Student participating in megaGEMSUIW’s Autonomous Vehicle Systems Laboratories (AVS Labs), in association with the UIW Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science (GEMS) program, launched its second annual summer internship initiative in partnership with the Army Education Outreach Program (AEOP) on Monday, June 6. The internship program consists of two educational opportunities for local high school girls. The first is the megaGEMS AEOP UNITE Technology Student Association (TSA) program, a four-week internship for 9th and 10th grade girls with an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Second is the megaGEMS AEOP Summer 2022 Apprenticeship program, an eight-week internship that pairs 11th and 12th grade girls with a mentor in a relevant field who will guide them through eight weeks of intense undergraduate level research. The interns work within the many labs that constitute UIW’s AVS Labs; they are the Computational Intelligence Lab (CIL), SWARM Lab, and the Motion Capture Lab (MoCap Lab). The apprenticeship program is made possible by funding from AEOP and TSA.

In the first week, the 14 interns (five at the apprentice level) worked on a variety of programs gaining valuable hands-on experience. For example, the students worked to investigate optimal filtering systems for an autonomous driving system’s visual object acquisition algorithm. They worked on position and guidance control processes that will assist in the operation of several independently Student studying at megaGEMS functioning, yet cooperative indoor drones, a capability known as swarming. Another project saw the interns facilitating the effectiveness of Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV) by engaging in advanced programmatic training in Python, MATLAB, and Simulink, a training program that is typically reserved for undergraduate computer science majors. Finally, the largest team of interns has been working on a substantial microdrone fleet that will ultimately compete in the 41st Annual Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Digital Avionics Systems Conference (DASC) Drone Course competition. This competition will require that many state of the art techniques be implemented such as aerodynamically secure and lightweight balloon popping mechanisms affixed to the drone, a detailed autonomous visual detection system, and an ability to perform swarm functionality.

The megaGEMS AEOP program also aims to inspire the young female interns by demonstrating what futures are possible in STEM fields. The internship program regularly invites accomplished women in STEM as weekly guest speakers. Most recently, interns heard from Dr. Joan Labay-Marquez of the UIW Dreeben School of Education. Dr. Labay-Marquez volunteers as the Education K-12 STEM Outreach Chair at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). The program also recently welcomed two-time UIW alumna Melissa Reyna, a senior process engineer at USAA currently pursuing a doctoral degree. In addition to regular inspirational guest speakers, current undergraduate and graduate students at UIW’s AVS Labs serve as mentors for the interns throughout the program. In a world where most young girls lose interest in STEM subjects at the age of 15 (CNN Business), the megaGEMS AEOP internship program is actively working to keep them engaged, open new doors of opportunity for them, and eventually, close the gender gap in STEM fields.