The 317th Recruiting Squadron, based at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, recently started a program to inspire innovation and creativity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs. They challenged students in Washington D.C., Virginia and Maryland schools with a simple question: Why are STEM careers important to our Nation?
The squadron received an overwhelming response. Recruiters reached out with the Air Force STEM 2020 Challenge contest to hundreds of schools in the region. Upon learning of the program, counselors and teachers in Middle Schools and High Schools responded by posted the contest on their social media sites and web pages.
It went viral from there.
The 317 RCS received submissions from schools all over the DC, Virginia and Maryland area. Eventually, 20 outstanding essay writers were selected in April, and given “golden e-vites” to spend the day learning about innovation in the Department of Defense. They were each allowed to bring a parent with them. “This is the Willy Wonka” of STEM programs,” stated MSgt Buffy Brown, Air Force STEM 2020 coordinator.
Essay contest winners were invited to Washington D.C. for a day of innovation and exploration. They received insider tours of the Pentagon from senior strategy members assigned to the Joint Staff and Air Staff.
I believe we refer to this as the VIP tour.
Lt Col Steven Whitney, member of the Joint Staff JCS J8 and tour guide said, “It was a pleasure to welcome these future innovators, and given them a taste of what it is like to serve here. It was inspiring to spend time with our Nation’s future leaders.”
Following their visit to the Pentagon, the young innovators got their chance to show their stuff with America’s latest technology at the Lockheed Martin Fighter Demonstration Center in Crystal City, Virginia. They received in-depth briefings on the Air Force’s newest fighter aircraft, the F-35. Ms. Heather Penney, an Air National Guard fighter pilot and program director at Lockheed Martin, led the presentation.
Minutes later, senior Lockheed Martin reps, all former military fighter pilots, entered the room and escorted the students to state-of-the-art F-35 and F-22 simulator facilities. Looping and turning with the young prodigies, the former pilots shared intimate details of future fighter technology. They also shared their own flying experiences, ranging from combat encounters in Vietnam all way through both gulf wars.
Students shared their input as well, and talked about everything from advanced robotics to how tomorrow’s avionics ‘ought to work.’
“I saw a few future Top Guns in there,” said Ms. Penney, who has recently followed in her father’s footsteps and joined the world of sport aircraft racing in Nevada.
One of the most interesting exchanges occurred between Ms. Penny and one of youngest students in the group, 13 year old Rebecca Sobus. Ms. Penney said, “She was an outstanding leader, and took me to task on the future of manned and unmanned flight. I have to admit, she brought up some very compelling points!”
At the end of the day, the STEM 2020 Essay Winners left Air Force and Industry leaders with a comforting sense of America’s future. Lt Col Chaudhary, Commander of the 317th Recruiting Squadron, offered a final thought, “We often label our young folks these days as the ‘I, me’ Generation.”
However, I don’t see it that way. These future leaders have an incredible sense of the future. They really are our country’s next greatest generation–innovators with visions well beyond the capabilities of our current generation. They are the key to innovation in America. I can’t wait until AF STEM 2021, and see what the future holds.”
More information on the “AF STEM 2020 Challenge” Contest can be found here.
Written by MSgt Buffy Brown, 317th Recruiting Squadron
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