WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — To an ever-evolving Air Force, young talent in STEM careers is crucial. It keeps research on the cutting edge. But with more than half of American students struggling to meet basic skill requirements in STEM education, where can this talent be found?
Dann Andrews, Education Outreach Office director, knows just where to find it.
“Everyone always talks about the pipeline. We’re trying to get kids involved in DoD STEM, but where is our pipeline? LEGACY was our answer,” said Dann Andrews, Education Outreach Office director. “It is an Air Force program, and we piloted it here at Wright-Patterson. It covers sixth grade through college. This is not just scientists and engineers- we’re going after a technical workforce, we’re going after the finance folks. It’s not just the ‘S’s and E’s’; it’s all of STEM.”
As a grass-roots program, LEGACY proved a success in its first year at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, receiving recognition from the National Defense Education Program, which funded the expansion of LEGACY to include Robins Air Force Base, Eglin Air Force Base and the United States Air Force Academy.
“The Air Force is really investing in the future work force and in young, diverse talent,” said Dr. Amanda Bullock, LEGACY Program Manager. “We recruit students who are under-represented in STEM, students of a minority gender or race, first generation college students and students from urban and rural communities. By recruiting and retaining young talent from the local areas, we are home-growing our talent. If they start in sixth grade, we get to see them for six years before they go to college.”
LEGACY students start in summer camps, where they are called Craftsmen. These camps are offered for sixth through tenth grade. Once students turn 16, they may be hired as Junior Apprentices and are given job placements as contractors in various labs at their local base. They are expected to work 320 hours over ten weeks, and also take part in a cohort project.
After graduating high school, students may return as apprentices, the primary difference being they are given a solo or small group project related to their field of work.
The goal is to then transition the LEGACY apprenticeships into Air Force-wide internships.
“The Air Force never had a STEM camp to feed into all of the college internships they have across the base,” said Bullock. “Now, we can recommend our LEGACY students to PATHWAYS, and complete the pipeline.”
LEGACY is putting students in labs, in real world settings.
“We have students in the hospital, we have students in AFRL [Air Force Research Laboratory] , we have students in the STRONG lab at the 711th Human Performance Wing, we even have a student at AFIT [Air Force Institute of Technology] this year,” said Bullock. “They are doing everything from biomedical engineering and devices to structural and material testing—such a wide variety. These student are working on anything you could think of—as long as it’s not classified.”