AEOP High School Apprenticeships: Get Hands-on Experience in a Research Lab

Apply for Summer Work Experience in a U.S. Army Research Lab or Center or a Partner University

Are you a high school student who dreams of spending a summer in a research lab? The Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP) High School Apprenticeship program offers high school students an exciting opportunity to work one-on-one with a university researcher or Department of Defense (DoD) scientist mentor during the summer in science and engineering research apprenticeships. 

When the AEOP program came onto my radar last summer, I knew I wanted to share it with my readers in time for them to apply for next summer. In this article, I’ll give you an overview of the program and highlight key information about what to expect and how to apply. Don’t set it aside for later reading, though—the application deadline is March 5, 2023!

AEOP high school student apprentice at University of Maryland Center for Vascular and Inflammatory Diseases

About the Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP) 

The U.S. Army has developed the AEOP to support the vision of a nation of STEM-inspired change makers, problem solvers, and innovators prepared to solve the country’s biggest challenges. AEOP aims to attract, develop, and mentor the next generation of our nation’s diverse talent. 

What is the AEOP High School Apprenticeship Program?

The AEOP High School Apprenticeships is a nationwide initiative that provides talented high school students with hands-on STEM research opportunities in world-class facilities at U.S. Army Research Laboratories and Centers and partner universities under the mentorship of professional scientists and engineers. While a few labs host AEOP High School Apprenticeships during the academic year, most high school apprentices participate during the summer. Not only is participation in the AEOP free of charge, but all apprentices also receive an educational stipend in recognition of their work.

Where Do Students Work?

AEOP High School Apprentices work in Army Research Laboratories and Centers or collaborating university laboratories. The locations are determined annually based on the availability of funding and the interest of the scientists and engineers that serve as the program’s mentors. There can be as many as 100 participating locations serving a total of 150 to 200 students each summer. View the current list of participating locations. The list has a short overview of each apprenticeship, including areas of interest (aka subject matter), a description of the type of work, and eligibility requirements. (Note: Additional locations may be added as funding becomes available—keep an eye on social media and the website for notification.)

How Many Weeks Does an Apprenticeship Run?

The average summer AEOP High School Apprenticeship will run for a total of 250 to 300 hours over the course of 6 to 8 weeks, with the exact schedule determined on a site-by-site basis by the local mentor.

What Types of Research Do Students Get to Do? 

AEOP High School Apprentices engage in research related to their mentor and host lab’s area of interest and specialty. There are opportunities in all areas of STEM, including neuroscience, electrical engineering, chemistry, biology, materials science, physics, civil and environmental engineering, and computer science, to name a few. See descriptions on the site list for specific examples

How Does the Mentorship Process Work?

Apprentices are selected by their mentors during the application review process. Apprentices will meet regularly with their official mentor throughout their internship, and will also receive mentorship from other people in the laboratory (undergraduates, graduate students, other research staff, and even their peers). A mentor will teach and support a student’s technical and research skills development. They will also look to have conversations with the apprentice about their education pathway and career opportunities.

Additionally, apprentices will have access to webinars and virtual workshops facilitated centrally by the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), the administrator of the program. These provide opportunities to hear from engaging speakers in the Army and DoD community who will speak about hot STEM careers and their own career path. RIT facilitates many college readiness workshops on topics like personal branding, scholarships and financial aid, the Common Application, and even the opportunity to meet with an admissions counselor. Their most popular workshops encourage apprentices to ask questions of a panel of Near Peer Mentors—current undergrad students from colleges throughout the country with backgrounds similar to the apprentices. The apprentices find great value in asking their near peers for advice and reflecting on their own pathways in STEM.

“It really gets you ready for the real world,” said Julia O’Gorman, a second-year mechanical engineering student at RIT. “Those summer experiences get you hands-on training for your job with both physical work and other skills, like how to interact with others.” O’Gorman did a virtual summer apprenticeship in high school during Covid, when she participated in an online STEM career development program and received training in the day-to-day work of a scientist, such as writing lab reports. Subsequently, she became a peer mentor in the AEOP program, and most recently received a SMART scholarship. Sponsored by the Department of Defense, SMART scholarship recipients commit to working for the DoD as a civilian for one year for every year they receive scholarship support. O’Gorman will work as an intern this summer at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, and will work there after graduation within the civil engineering unit.

Tips for Applying 

If you’re interested, it is highly recommended that you read through the application support materials and, if possible, attend a virtual info session. Applications for summer 2023 are being accepted from January 12, 2023 through March 5, 2023. Here are some important steps to take:

  • Review the comprehensive FAQ guide that covers the application process, eligibility requirements, and specifics about the overall program.
  • Participate in an Information Session.
  • Follow AEOP Apprenticeships and Fellowships on social media for important updates (InstagramFacebook, and Twitter). 
  • Send questions to the helpline at [email protected] or 585-475-4529.
  • Make sure you qualify for the eligibility requirements before applying for any specific apprenticeship location.

There are four key eligibility requirements for high school apprentices:

  • Must be a US citizen or permanent legal resident.
  • Must be currently enrolled in high school or within 60 months of having received a high school degree and not have started undergrad. (Note: AEOP also has opportunities for undergrads, grad students, and post-docs!)
  •  Must be at least 14 years old—although some labs have additional age requirements.
  • Some sites require that participants be from underserved or military-connected populations as defined by the AEOP (and must meet two criteria to qualify as underserved). Pay attention to site descriptions to see if this is a requirement.

Note that this is a highly competitive program. You will want to put your best foot forward in the application process. Be sure to write about your STEM experience and interest in your application essay. AEOP recommends that you write your essay before completing the application.

“The AEOP High School Apprenticeships are more than summer jobs that look good on a college application—they are transformative. The AEOP provides an opportunity for young people to be part of research that addresses the country’s biggest challenges while learning from experts and building a network of like-minded peers.”

–   Donna Burnette, Director of AEOP Apprenticeships & Fellowships

Other AEOP Programs

AEOP offers apprenticeships for undergrad students, fellowships for graduate and post-graduate students, and the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS), where high school students compete for scholarships and recognition by present­ing results of their STEM projects to a panel of judges.

About Rochester Institute of Technology

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) administers the AEOP Apprenticeships as a member of a consortium of universities and non-profits that support the AEOP portfolio. If you’re considering STEM in college and want real-world work experience, RIT is well-regarded for its co-ops and internships programs.

Image Credit: AEOP

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