The Department of Defense needs to produce enough high-caliber science, technology, engineering and mathematics talent to ensure the U.S. maintains superiority in national defense.
Fortunately, innovative Air Force STEM programs across the country are making a difference.
The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy and Space Vehicles Directorates at Kirtland Air Force Base are leading STEM outreach programs that influence thousands of students each year in New Mexico, Hawaii, and across the nation.
More than 300 federal labs, including Department of Energy national labs, Department of Defense labs, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration compete each year for the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer STEM Team Award.
In recognition of AFRL’s strong and pioneering STEM programs, the consortium awarded the Directed Energy and Space Vehicles Directorates its 2013 STEM Team Award, recognizing the AFRL directorates for several programs.
One of the team’s far-reaching success stories is the University Nanosat Program, a partnership between AFRL, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. The UNP encourages U.S. university students to competitively design, build, launch and track a small satellite or nanosat. It is the only program in the federal government open and dedicated exclusively to U.S.-university participation in spacecraft development. In 2012, about 500 undergraduate and graduate students from 10 universities participated in the program. Two UNP satellites, CUSat built by Cornell University and DANDE, built by the University of Colorado, are scheduled to launch in July.
The AFRL La Luz Academy at Kirtland is another exceptional STEM program. The Academy has a direct impact on more than 3,000 of New Mexico’s fifth-grade through high school students and hundreds of teachers each year. Through nine challenging events, the Academy provides hands-on STEM activities mapped to N.M. education content standards and benchmarks. More than 77,000 New Mexico students have participated in the AFRL La Luz Academy programs since its inception in the mid-1990s.
At AFRL’s site on Maui, Hawaii, more than 1,000 students and teachers each year participate in interactive STEM events. The AFRL STEM programs in New Mexico and Hawaii have been nationally recognized for reaching economically disadvantaged and minority students.
Another initiative tackling the nation’s STEM needs is the AFRL Directed Energy and Space Vehicles Scholars Program, which seeks top graduate science and engineering students from across the U.S. for paid summer internships.
AFRL scientists and engineers mentor the scholars in research areas such as lasers, satellite technologies, high-power electromagnetics and advanced optics, among other fields.
A sister program, the Phillips Scholars program, targets upper-level high school students and undergraduate college students for summer research employment.
The next applicant cycle for the AFRL and Phillips Scholars programs begins in February 2014.