Salute to Youth, Career Connection is a long-standing tradition for the Antelope Valley, Calif.
The annual event is sponsored by the community to encourage students to learn more about the various career opportunities available to them after high school and college.
While the event has been held in previous years at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif., this year Salute to Youth was hosted by the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds in Lancaster, Calif. And that wasn’t the only change, because for the first time in 21 years the event was for freshmen in high school rather than juniors and seniors.
“In the 21st century I think what we’re looking at is jobs that require more skill and more education than a high school diploma and we really want to encourage our students to go after STEM-related and technical careers that require post-secondary education, and so by starting in the 9th grade level they’re really able to take the courses that they need to take to be prepared to go beyond high school,” said Betsy McKinstry, director of Career Technical Education for the Antelope Valley Union High School District. McKinstry added that this year’s event had representatives from 65 different professional organizations and students from both AVUHSD and Kern County schools.
Bill McKeon, a member of the education outreach committee for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics said that AIAA participates in the event to provide “the tools that will help with STEM academics in the classroom.”
He added, “For students it’s very important to foster that interest and energy in learning a little bit more about subjects that may seem daunting at first, but to kind of make them aware of all the fun things that could be possible from that type of educational background [and] for teachers to give new and exciting ways to bring that level of enthusiasm into the classroom.”
One of the most popular booths was from Edwards AFB, which spanned several tables with information packets and educational resources.
“A lot of [students] have an interest but they don’t know how to get there so we try to help them get there,” said Larry ‘Joe’ Dale, branch chief of the Instrumentation Branch at Edwards AFB in Rosamond Calif.
By far the biggest draw, however, was the F-22 flight simulator set up on one of the tables.
Lt. Col. Devin Traynor, an F-22 pilot, was dressed in his flight suit and explaining the simulator to each student who tried it. According to Traynor, having the F-22 simulator is a good opportunity to “get [students] attention” and then talk about what goes into a project like the F-22.
Another one of the more popular booths was the span of tables for Lockheed Martin that featured a pressurized flight suit and ejection seat.
There were also displays of model aircraft, an electronic strength-tester and other various demonstrations.
“These kids here are asking questions like ‘how do we get into aerospace,'” said Gabe Padilla senior maintenance trainer at Lockheed Martin. “A lot of these students aren’t aware that these companies hire straight from the military.”
He added that pursuing an education in the Math and Science fields are also ways to obtain careers in aerospace.
The event also featured representatives from Boeing, Northrop Grumman and NASA.
Cecilia Cordova, informal education manager and FIRST Robotics Alliance point of contact for NASA said, “one of the things that a lot of people are questioning is now that the shuttle is gone away what’s NASA going to do and so we have to keep reiterating that we do more than astronaut and shuttle kinds of things.”
Each of the NASA tables reflected one of NASA’s directorates and had a corresponding activity.
On the Aeronautics table, representing the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, was a flow visualization tunnel. In the Earth Science and Space department was an infrared camera and “magic planet” and in the Science Mission area was a robotic arm to teach about the rover on Mars.
Reggie Cousins, a lead design engineer at Northrop Grumman said, “I think [Salute to Youth] is good for the community. I think it’s good that they bring these kids out of the classroom … a lot of kids just simply don’t know what they want to do with their lives and so I think it’s wonderful that all these companies are here to give them all kinds of options.”