AEROSPACE VALLEY, Calif. — High school and elementary age students in the High Desert and mountain region where American leadership in air and space technology was created, are being challenged and helped to overcome self-doubts about becoming part of the next big things in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Encouragement and helpful advice were delivered by men and women who, having accepted their own challenges to reach true human potential, are dedicated to helping generations to come.
Offering insights on their individual pathways, experiences, challenges, doubts and decisions were:
Dr. Eileen Bjorkman, Flight Test Center Executive Director, is a former U.S. Air Force officer who retired after a 30-year career, and a flight test engineer and pilot with 700 flight hours logged;
Lt. Col. Carlos Pinedo, is a B-1 test pilot who flew F-4 Phantoms and is Above & Beyond director. Born in Mexico, Pinedo immigrated with his parents at age 2, and raised in the Antelope Valley, becoming a naturalized U.S. Citizen at age 16. He graduated from Highland High School, where he marched in the band and was in the Air Force Junior ROTC.
Program Moderator Lisa Brown, Director of Education and Community Relations for the non-profit Edwards AFB Flight Test Museum Historical Foundation, introduced presenters in the AV / East Kern STEM Network 2021-22 STEMPOSIUM, and guided discussions.
Between individual presentations, brief break-out group sessions, on-line Q&A segments guided by emcee Kriss Vanderhyde, subjects ranged across a wide spectrum of knowledge and experience.
As one participant commented, Career Technical Education studies are increasingly driven by the need to prepare for jobs not even yet invented. Coding, chemistry, data science and analysis, metallurgy, ceramics, electronics, robotics were mentioned.
But it was leadoff keynoter Bjorkman who launched the essential skills for technology not typically offered in a laboratory or a manufacturing plant — Speaking and writing to effectively communicate technical and scientific information to non-technical people who need to know: Congressional budget committees, customers, investors and media people, to name a few. Bjorkman said that while being technically solid in the science and physics in required, “learning to explain it to somebody else — to people without the technical background — is essential.”
And along with communications skills, Bjorkman brought up the “A” word sometimes inserted into STEM, merging the Art with the Science.
Others grabbed the concept and carried it farther, pointing out the advantages of knowing elements of artistic style when visualizing technical design. Historical examples mentioned in discussion began with the visionary spacecraft configurations seen in illustrations of Sci/Fi novels by H.G. Wells, to the wristwatch phone worn by futuristic cartoon cop Dick Tracy. The conclusion there was that we now have the phone, but not on the wrist, and it is far more than a telephone. It’s the 21st century equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife on steroids.
But Bjorkman wasn’t quite finished exploring skills for tomorrow’s Care Tech Education. It is important, she said, that people on the tech ed track to know some things about how to create and use technology in the best ways, or at least not in the worst ways. Her advice calls for seasoning the wonk with spices of history and ethics, remembering when everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, and considering the ethical question, Just because it can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done.
Although topics for the afternoon were heavily weighted on the regionally dominant aerospace and mechanical engineering career side, the greater world of STEM thrives also in high schools, where the academically endorsed Project Lead the Way Curriculum is dominant.
In addition to aerospace industry academies, the Antelope Valley Union High School District schools offer academies focused in career preparation classes and internships in bio-medicine, health care, medicine and public service.
Words of advice for students already involved or considering a STEM or STEAM course of study came throughout the afternoon, from educators, technical career professionals and past and present STEM students themselves. Here are some hot tips from those who know:
“Go to career fairs, and student network meetings and events.”
“Ask a lot of questions. Everyone’s always learning, Ask around,”
“Don’t be intimidated.”
“Don” be afraid of following your passion. Women engineers can work on the (traditionally male) manufacturing side.”
“Field trips are great. I fell in love with space in the 6th grade on a JPL field trip.”
“I volunteered at the Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale. Now I’m working at Virgin. I like g of being a part of something bigger than myself.”
“I’d take every class on data science and analysis.”
“Don’t underestimate yourself. Don’t sell yourself short. Ask for help if you hit a wall.”
“STEM opens doors.”