WPAFB expands STEM program


WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — Middle school, high school and college students near Eglin and Robins Air Force Base, as well as the United States Air Force Academy, will benefit from personalized, one-on-one training from leading professionals as Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s Educational Outreach office expands its Leadership, Experience, Growing, Apprenticeships Committed to Youth program to those locations this summer.

“There is an insatiable appetite to get students in the pipeline in early grades to spark their interest in science, technology, engineering and math that will result in STEM degrees and eventually, STEM career fields,” said Dann Andrews, WPAFB K-12 STEM team lead. “The long-term goal of LEGACY is to stand up a LEGACY Program at every Air Force Base.”

All three locations began taking applications in January with coursework starting this summer. So far, the four sites have a total of 631 student applications.

The Air Force first piloted LEGACY at Wright-Patt in 2017 due to the base’s extensive K-12 outreach programs, according to Justin Earley, LEGACY program manager. Since then, 102 students, 20 mentors and 36 camp volunteers have participated in the program that then received National Defense Education Program funding to expand to multiple Air Force sites.

“We didn’t know what to expect [when it first began], but we knew it was going to be a game-changer because of our pipeline initiative,” said Earley. “The LEGACY model is responsible for a 80 percent student retention rate from 2017 to 2018 at Wright-Patt. They have to earn their spot each year and be accepted back into the program. Students want to stay in the pipeline year-after-year.”

LEGACY is an Air Force program executed from the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Engineering and Technical Management directorate here. The program is broken into three phases: Craftsman for grades six through 10, utilizing free STEM- and math-inspired camps to build an interest and self-confidence in STEM; Junior Apprentice for grades 10 through 12, for those at least 16 years old, to get exposure to real-world research and Apprentice for college students, as a continuation of the Junior Apprentice phase, preparing for a STEM career after graduation.

“The LEGACY program will move students from sixth through tenth grades through hands-on, minds-on camps,” said Andrews. “Once they have completed the camps, students will earn a paid Junior Apprenticeship [to] work side-by-side with a mentor from their respective base. This program will move the diversity needle with our next generation workforce that will greatly affect our recruiting and hiring of the next generation of scientists, engineers, and technical subject matter experts. I was lucky enough to hand select my team (Justin Earley, Nicole Lange, Dr. Amanda Bullock) to create and implement a next generation program that is going to change the way we inspire, recruit, and retain, the future workforce.”

The U.S. Department of Education says that only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in math and interested in a STEM career. Contrast that with employment rates in STEM occupations growing at a rate of 24.4 percent over the last decade vice four percent for non-STEM occupations, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, and it’s clear to see the need for a program like LEGACY. But, participants say that the reason to join LEGACY goes much further than simply preparing for a job.

“Students should get involved with STEM because it is a growing field that leads to some of the greatest inventions of all time,” said Clark-Shawnee High School Junior Scott Tursic. “The best part is that anyone can make a huge impact on humanity. It takes time, dedication and some ingenuity.”

Eglin and Robins AFBs and the USAFA were chosen for their strong STEM programs already in place that will allow for easy implementation of the LEGACY program, according to Earley. Soon, students at those locations will learn what Wright-Patt participants already know.

“The greatest benefits of the program are that not only do you get to test out possible career options, but you also get to do real world work while you’re at it,” said Michelle Wong, a junior at Wayne High School and LEGACY participant. “It’s not just textbook work; you get to answer questions that there aren’t right answers to already. You get to take part in stuff that’s going to actually be used.”

While families can spend hundreds, or even thousands, on special programs each year to teach math and science, participants say LEGACY is truly about opportunity.

“LEGACY is free. The experience you get from the program costs nothing but your time and effort,” said Catholic Central High School Senior Bri Ewing. “This aspect makes LEGACY better in my eyes than the other programs available to me because my financial situation or how much I can give to them isn’t taken into consideration for me to be accepted.”

For others, it’s the unique hands-on nature of LEGACY and direct involvement of AFRL staff that makes the pipeline so remarkable.

“LEGACY is a great program as it gives an unparalleled experience in the world of engineering,” said Myron Fletcher, a LEGACY Apprentice participant. “Truthfully, an internship is just an internship, but what makes LEGACY unique are the people who will work with you and [help you] find your place in STEM.”

More information on LEGACY can be found by going to the participating location’s educational outreach program website.