AFRL Scholars: More than an internship

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. — For countless students, an internship is a necessary gateway to gain work experience and better understand the work environment they hope to enter after graduation. The Air Force Research Laboratory Scholars Program offers a unique learning opportunity that aspires to accomplish more. It is a stipend-paid internship that is open to undergraduate, graduate, and upper-level high school students who hope to pursue a degree in STEM.

“For many students, an internship is an opportunity to gain valuable work experience,” said Technology Outreach Branch Program Manager, Matthew Fetrow. “What makes our internships different, is that at AFRL these young people are actually doing hands-on, amazing research. We’ve structured the program so that they are contributing to our mission.”

AFRL’s Scholars Program immerses participating students into actual research projects and initiatives that the scientists and engineers are working on. They take part in fundamental research and are given high-level responsibility and input.

“Students are paired with mentors that work to guide them in their chosen field,” says AFRL Scholars Program Coordinator Julie McCullough. “While in the program, they are given an opportunity to work autonomously on the research they are interested in and that’s unprecedented in most internships.”

“The volume of high-quality, meaningful research is huge,” Fetrow said. “They’re all contributing significant work, and the program is set up that way intentionally. Patents are produced, academic papers are written, and new ideas are formulated. We’re trying to build skills for these young people, but AFRL is getting quality research out of it. I think that’s a unique goal for an internship program.”

The AFRL Scholars Program works diligently to make the experience unique, with an opportunity to work alongside renowned Air Force scientists and engineers. These students are also considered respected members of the research teams and are treated as such.

“They care about you as a scientist,” said former scholar and National Research Council Post-Doctoral Fellow, Ryan Phillips. “This is a world class mentorship because they see it as an investment in future scientists.”

Phillips has been with the Ultra Short Pulse Laser group of the Directed Energy Directorate for AFRL since April 2018. His success within the organization is a testament to the opportunities that the program has to offer.

Even though the involvement within the research is often at a high level, there are opportunities for students that range anywhere from high school juniors and seniors, to visiting professors looking to further their knowledge of working research.

“The program was created as a means to identify, recruit, and hire, top science and technology talent in the United States,” McCullough said. “The primary objective is to increase student participation in science, technology, engineering and math to help meet long-term national defense needs for personnel who are proficient in these skills.”

The application period for the AFRL Scholars Program opened October 23 and closes January 14. Applying students will need to submit current contact information, an updated resumé, unofficial transcripts from all schools attended. The internships typically range from 10-12 weeks, but can be as short as eight. Interested students can find more information and the application at

image of scholar looking at equipment

AFRL Scholars taking part in a demonstration of the Agile Manufacturing Lab during the 2019 summer scholars program. (Photo by Tyrell Etsitty)