VICKSBURG, Miss. - Members of the ERDC Alumni Association gathered with current ERDC employees, students and their families to present scholarships awarded by the alumni association this year to local high-school graduates.
The ERDC Alumni Association, a group of retired employees from the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, was formed in 2018 and awards the scholarships each year.
A total of eight $1,000 scholarships were awarded in 2023, and five winners were present at the event held on June 16 at the Vicksburg VFW. Selectees this year were: Rachel Dahl, a graduate and valedictorian of St. Aloysius High School who plans on attending Louisiana Technical University; Henlee Middleton, a graduate of Warren Central High School who plans on attending Mississippi State University; Kameron Peterson, a graduate of River City Early College who plans on attending Mississippi College; Lawson Selby, a graduate of Porter’s Chapel Academy who plans to attend Meridian Community College; and Noah Taylor, a graduate of St. Aloysius High School who plans to attend Louisiana Tech University; Clover McGowan, a graduate of Hamilton High School who plans on attending Mississippi State University; Elizabeth Mitchell, a graduate of Jackson Preparatory School who plans on attending Furman University; and Victoria Carrica, a graduate of Old Saybrook High School, who was accepted to multiple institutions, but has not made her decision.
The scholarships were given regardless of the student’s major, and the money for them was collected through fundraisers and donations.
“We want to focus on STEM, but we recognize there are other professions at ERDC,” said Ernie Smith, ERDC Alumni Association president. “It’s not limited to being a computer science major or civil engineer.”
For the judges, the greatest boon to an application was the essay.
“It doesn’t have to be long,” said Smith. “The ones that scored high were the ones that had a passion about the field they’re studying. It doesn’t have to be engineering. They had a passion, and it stood out.”
Though it’s not a requirement, the ERDC Alumni Association would love to see these students return to their home turf to start their careers. A main goal of the scholarship is to “strengthen the connection with the community in Vicksburg and attract our local talent,” said Smith.
“There are some bright kids out there,” he added. “One thing we ask on the application is ‘What is your connection with ERDC?’, and for a lot of them, it’s their parents working there, or GEMS camp, or they get a student job there and get interested in it. With us having such a presence in Vicksburg, we want to attract students like that. We want to make it interesting for them and expose them to what ERDC does. I’ve been retired for seven years, and when I go back, I’m still blown away by all the cool stuff we do.”
One such student steeped in ERDC extracurricular is Rachel Dahl, who plans on majoring in cyber engineering.
“Our school had a robotics team that I really wanted to be on, but they had just started it for the grade below me,” said Dahl. “Then I found 456 and joined them.”
ERDC’s FIRST Robotic Competition Team, or FRC 456 Siege Robotics, is a high-school team that began competing in FIRST Robotics competitions in 2000 and recently won the 2018 Bayou Regional.
“It feels really good to have been recognized,” said Dahl. “Especially in connection with ERDC, because I’ve spent so much time up there in robotics, and hopefully as a student worker this summer.”
Her sentiments were echoed by previous members of the robotics team, who have since found their way to ERDC through internships and student worker opportunities.
“Half of our team were interns there at one time and are now working there full time,” she added.
For other students, like Lawson Selby, ERDC has been discussed at their kitchen tables during meals, as several family members have worked for the organization.
“My mom started working at ERDC four years ago, and my uncle and aunt work there, so it’s always been in the back of my mind,” said Selby.
ERDC Deputy Commander for Support Maj. Joseph Henderson spoke to the organization’s influence within the region.
“The good thing about this area in Warren County and Vicksburg is you have generations of families tied into ERDC, even back when it was the Waterways Experiment Station,” he said. “Their uncle worked there, or their mom worked there. They’ve been surrounded by the ERDC family and the environment since a young age. A lot of the students will tell you that their experiences with ERDC had a part in choosing their majors and wanting to come back to work there. It’s a great investment for ERDC and the community in the long haul. We’re inspiring dreams, creating future lab directors and great discoveries.”