WBI-supported STEM Camps Put Students on Compelling Career Path

14.12.22 03:04 PM By Jennie Hempstead

By Laura Dempsey

The Air Force Research Laboratory engaged Wright Brothers Institute (WBI) to partner with Air Camp Inc. (AIC) to develop and execute STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) camps for interested students across the nation.

Since 2011, AIC has implemented STEM programs designed to build skills in leadership, scholarship and citizenship. AIC actively collaborates with area professionals, teachers and students to provide relevant STEM content and hands-on engineering challenges. AIC considers WBI’s support, both financial and in content creation, essential to fulfilling its mission to reach the greatest numbers of students and teachers as possible. The focus on STEM is vital to our Air Force future: data included in the Air Force Science and Technology Strategy 2030 showed that the Air Force had reached its lowest numbers for science technology, engineering and math in its general officers in more than 30 years.*  That report included a directive to “Create a Strong Pipeline of Technology-Proficient Airmen,” a mandate directly addressed by the efforts of the Air Camp program.

An important facet of Air Camp is its commitment to engaging diverse learners and teachers, especially students from underserved populations in STEM fields. In 2022, there were 312 participants across nine different camp experiences, with 28 percent reporting themselves to be of minority status. There were 104 female and 208 males enrolled. These statistics reveal another way Air Camp is addressing the country’s need for better STEM outreach. Panelists at a Harvard University talk titled “New Pathways to STEM” cited a “large subset of students ho are not being fully prepared for STEM careers.”** Scholarship funds are available allocated via application on a first come, first served basis. The program reports that 35 percent of camp participants received scholarship funding.

Students at Summer 2022's Air Camps engage in hands-on engineering challenges. (Photo courtesy AIC)

There were four day camps for elementary grade students (grands 4, 5 and 6); two two-day camps for middle school students (grades 7, 8 and 9); two two-day camps for high school students (grades 10, 11 and 12); and one day camp for teachers of students in grades K-12. Campers and their parents were surveyed at the end of camp: their responses were overwhelmingly positive. One parent commented: “My son … is EXTREMELY proud of his experience this summer. He wears his challenge coin on a chain and has told everyone he meets about the camp. He now wants to go to the Air Force Academy. I’m thankful for the opportunity and hope to send him back again!!”

In March 2021, WBI was engaged to establish a pilot program to develop and execute a mobile version of Air Camp for possible use by the Air Force Materiel Command. The pilot was initiated in the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base area, the goal being to expand the program across AFMC bases. WBI was crucial to this effort, acting as the bridge between local, regional and national educational entities, AFRL, and AIC, in addition to managing the budget and providing summary metrics and reports to all stakeholders. Bridget Long, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, believes STEM education is more than just an economic issue. “The importance of STEM education is about so much more than just jobs,” she said “STEM fields demand curious individuals eager to solve the world’s most pressing problems.”

Jennie Hempstead