HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah —
The Hill Air Force Base Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Outreach Program recently teamed with the Utah Engineers Council to present a STEM exhibit during the 2018 FanX event in Salt Lake City.
The annual three-day event, held at the Salt Palace Convention Center Sept. 6-8, draws thousands of visitors who come to enjoy a wide range of exhibits and vendors.
Alison Sturgeon, STEM outreach program manager, said FanX is a great venue to reach people.
“FanX attracts huge crowds and allows us to reach thousands of people; this year was record breaking at 110,000,” she said. “It provides us a unique opportunity to talk with young people who are already interested in many areas of technology, for example, gaming. With our exhibit and through education, we can show them how their gaming hobbies connect to real-world applications, and hopefully inspire them to pursue a STEM career.”
For the past two years, the STEM program has partnered with the Utah Engineers Council to provide STEM outreach during FanX. The UEC is an umbrella organization of 15 local chapters of engineering societies.
This year, the Hill Aerospace Museum also contributed to the exhibit by loaning an A-10 cockpit trainer for display at the booth.
According to Sturgeon, Hill needs to hire more than 300 civilian engineers and computer scientists each year, just to keep up with the immediate demand. This can be a significant challenge, given the current trends in STEM career sectors, where more than 3 million jobs remain open in the Unites States.
One way Hill is proactively combating this trend is through the creation and development of the STEM Outreach Program. This has become an important tool, and is a big piece of the civilian workforce puzzle, Sturgeon said.
Studies have shown the need to spark interest in students at a young age, in order to develop an attraction to related fields of study and the pursuit of a STEM career path.
Also identified is the requirement that young people need increased exposure to STEM role models in order to aspire to be like adults currently working in these career fields. Most students know doctors, nurses, mechanics and teachers, but they rarely know an engineer or computer scientist.
Having civilian Air Force scientists and engineers volunteering and mentoring students in STEM activities can go a long way to inform and inspire future STEM professionals, Sturgeon said.
One of the many STEM career professionals volunteering at this year’s exhibit was Rachael Beal, a software engineer in F-22 test and development.
“There are not a lot of women in engineering, so I volunteered to help represent science and technology, and hopefully create interest with visitors, in particular girls,” she said. “The idea is to expose them to STEM in general, but also to help young females make the connection that STEM is affiliated with the military, and let them know these type of career opportunities are out there.”
Sturgeon said kindergarten through grade 12 STEM outreach is vitally important to inspire and develop a civilian workforce of tomorrow, for Hill as well as the Air Force as a whole.
“The Air Force mission can only be met if the right people, with the right skills, are available now and in the future,” she said. “As technology continues to increase throughout the Air Force, these skills are increasingly STEM skills.”