WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – Students from nine local middle and high schools filled the hallways at the Air Force Institute of Technology here Feb. 21-22 as they explored various career paths and opportunities the Air Force has to offer in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics fields.
Engineers Week, part of a nationwide effort to celebrate and promote engineering, is sponsored by DiscoverE, a coalition of academic, industry, and professional organizations. Universities nationwide host similar events during Engineers Week.
“Engineering is really about problem solving, and we want to be able to introduce students to that at a younger age so they can get exposed to science, technology, engineering, and math,” said Capt. Andrew Lingenfelter, assistant professor at the AFIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, who helped lead the event. “If we can show them the kinds of problems that we’re solving in the Air Force and in the Department of Defense, we hope to get them excited about being engineers, scientists, and mathematicians and hopefully help the Air Force and DOD later on down the road.”
Over 220 students rotated between different stations and activities to include straw bridges and rockets, fire safety, Ozobots, rockets, an energy generating bike, high altitude balloons, and more.
“It’s exciting to bring students in from outside the base,” said Lingenfelter. “They get to see the buildings, the people, the laboratories, and what it looks like for the Air Force to solve problems. The difference from them being students to being professionals really isn’t that far. We’re trying to bridge that gap and let them see that there are multiple paths they can take to be problem solvers.”
Lingenfelter also noted that events like these help contribute toward long-term Air Force goals.
“This event contributes to the long-term strategic mission,” he said. “It gets young people excited to explore STEM career fields. If you don’t start down this path in middle school or high school you can fall behind and have to catch up while you’re in college. We’re trying to inspire the engineers that will be joining our ranks, either as an officer or as a civilian 10 years from now.”
Chad Bishop, a design and modeling teacher at Mad River Middle School brought a group of students to the event and spoke to the importance of getting students involved in STEM fields early in their education.
“Getting exposure to different types of engineering careers I see as kind of a springboard for kids when they come back from these events,” said Bishop. “They love the hands-on experience and it really filters into our curriculum.”
Engineers Week events also serve as a valuable tool for educators, just as much as students.
“We came out here last year and the one thing I remember that stood out was the drones that our students got to see fly around. So now not only does it excite our students, it also excites our staff, because our engineering department in the high school is now working with drones. They’re building them from scratch and programming those drones, so not only is it great for the students, it’s also great for the teachers to see different ideas that we can implement into our curriculum as well,” said Bishop.
“The demand for engineers isn’t getting any smaller,” said Lingenfelter. “We’re trying to plant that seed and get them excited to explore these career paths.”