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 at the 2019 FanX event in Salt Lake City.
The biannual three-day event, which was held at the Salt Palace Convention Center Sept. 5-7, draws thousands of visitors, providing great exposure for Hill and its STEM programs. First Lt. John McCrea, Air Force Nuke Weapons Center, said he believes the FanX STEM outreach booth undoubtedly impacted lives.
“It was a terrific turnout this year, with the event drawing more than 100,000 guests,” he said. “We clearly made a positive impact on those who stopped by our booth, especially the young people with an interest in future STEM careers, as well as visiting parents and educators.”
This year’s booth included Hill AFB STEM swag, an A-10 simulator cockpit from the Hill Aerospace Museum, a 3D interactive topographical map sandbox, which adjusts a projected map onto sand as it is interacted with, and several FIRST robotics teams demonstrating their expertise to other kids their own age.
“Multiple kids told our volunteers that the STEM booth was their favorite event at the convention, which speaks highly of the great service we are providing. It was a very successful event, and we look forward to participating in this collaborative outreach effort again in the future,” McCrea said.
According to Alison Sturgeon, STEM outreach program manager, 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, which 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 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.