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Summer Program Offers Physicists a Way to Give Back

NDEP Closing Ceremony
July 28, 2022

Participants Sad about Summer Program's End

The summer 2022 session of the Department of Defense’s National Defense Education Program (NDEP) closed out on Friday, July 22, at the Knight Center on the Alabama A&M University campus.   PHOTOS from Closing Ceremony

About two years ago, a group of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals from AAMU were awarded a $3 million grant from DoD to develop a multidisciplinary support system that would nurture tomorrow’s STEM pipeline from a growing minority workforce.

The program is headed by gifted physicist Paul Ruffin, who also is the principal investigator, AAMU RISE chief scientist and a current adjunct professor.  The team’s NDEP proposal was among a dozen selected for $31 million in funding out of almost 200 submissions, according to Dr. Lashauna Evans of DoD, who attended the closing ceremony and gave remarks on how the selection process for the AAMU NDEP grant was conducted..  

Rounding out the A&M group are Dr. Andrew Scott, co-PI and interim director of AAMU-RISE and professor of electrical engineering; Yvette Clayton, director of AAMU’s Career Development Services; Dr. Jonathan Lassiter, program manager and AAMU-RISE research associate; and Willie Love, NDEP career development professional.  The AAMU team’s proposal was titled “A 3-Step Approach Providing a Pipeline of Skilled Minority STEM Professionals for the DoD Future Workforce.”

Some 35 participants benefitted from the eight-week summer session and its strong focus on professional development, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, coding and other in-demand areas through classroom instruction and impressive series of field trips, which included a presentation at The World Games in Birmingham, Ala.

Specifically, the AAMU initiative aligns with the goals of the DoD to increase awareness of DoD science and technology priority areas to prepare students for technical careers in national security and defense. A key public benefit of the effort is the broadening of DoD exposure and employability of participants with secondary benefits to enhance the retention and knowledge base of minority STEM students attending AAMU and sister minority-serving institutions, like the University of Houston-Victoria (UHV) and Navajo Technical University (NTU).

During the summer closeout session, one by one, students expressed gratitude to program organizers and praised NDEP’s skill-building dynamics, including coding, networking, and teamwork emphasis. A few conveyed sadness that the session was coming to an end.  Each participant received a certificate of completion and a stipend.

As he welcomed the group at the program’s opening, Dr. Ruffin provided closing remarks of encouragement.   The NDEP project is just one of the many ways the AAMU alumnus gives back to his Alma Mater and the nation’s future scientists and researchers.  Throughout most of his career, Ruffin has served as a research physicist conducting exploratory and advanced research and development in fiber-optic communication, microelectromechanical systems and nanotechnology (10 patents) for the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC).

Planning is already in progress for NDEP’s fall 2022 session.  For additional information, contact Dr. Jonathan Lassiter, program manager, at (256) 372-5656 or e-mail

                                                                                                           by Jerome Saintjones