Local students showcase STEM projects at AFRL event

ROSSBURG, Ohio – Approximately 130 students and teachers from nine local schools participated in the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 7th annual Full Throttle STEM at Eldora Speedway May 14. 

Wearing t-shirts coded with school pride, the students, who ranged in age from 9 to 18, strode into the showroom with their STEM projects and their remote-controlled (RC) and autonomous cars.

“We are able to get students excited about STEM by showing them things they’ve never seen before,” explained 1st Lt. Mitchell Lichtenwald, program lead for Live, Virtual, Constructive Simulations in AFRL’s 711th Human Performance Wing. “By saying ‘yes, you can do this too—it doesn’t matter where you’re from—you can have an impact whether you decide to enlist, or become a civilian, or if you work with any of our industry partners as a contractor.’ There are many ways to work for or alongside the military.”

Local schools participating in the event included Arcanum-Butler, New Bremen, Northmont, St. Henry, Tri-County North, Tri-Village and Versailles. Students showcased projects such as computer on a wall, hearing aids for children, as well as various gaming and virtual reality projects. The event culminated in RC and autonomous car races outside in the Eldora Speedway concourse.

“Opportunities like Full Throttle STEM help stir up more creative ideas for us,” explained Tyler Brobring, a senior at St. Henry High School, who brought the early stages of a 3-D printed RC car. “I hope to eventually have a complete RC car, fully 3-D printed that will race.” Brobring has plans to attend the University of Northwestern Ohio and study robotics. He said that his back-up plan is mechanical engineering, an interest spurred by his AFRL STEM projects.

Lichtenwald stated that this event is important to the students for a number of reasons, one being that because they are in more rural areas, sometimes districts don’t have access to various resources to provide content for the STEM projects. That’s where AFRL steps in.

AFRL’s involvement also broadens students’ understandings of what may be possible career choices.

“In our small rural district, these projects bring more opportunities for our students to see what’s beyond just the regular classroom,” said Laini Ferriell, a gifted program coordinator with Tri County North schools. “It gives them a touch of developing skills, and other skills like the ability to communicate with one another.”

Ferriell explained that the STEM program for her younger students started out with cardboard and masking tape, but has evolved to opportunities like computer programing, Lego robotics, and the RC cars.

Instructional Coach Lisa Galpin said that her younger students look up to the high school students, and that the interaction helps them.

“It helps them to learn that it’s okay to ask for help, and they gain confidence when they are able to communicate with older STEM students and members of the military about their projects,” explained Galpin, who also works for Tri County North schools.

Another reason this event is important, explained Lichtenwald, is because there is a huge talent pool for the Air Force and the Department of Defense in these rural school districts.

“When students can’t come to us, it’s important for us to come out to them. We’re really able to demystify STEM content and projects,” he said. “By exposing students to all sorts of different technology, we’re showing them that it doesn’t matter that the ideas might be pie-in-the-sky right now. We show them that they don’t have to be scared of all this technology.”

Full Throttle STEM has been a staple of 711HPW’s Gaming Research Integration for Learning Laboratory, or GRILL, and has had continued support and partnerships throughout the community.

This annual event began in 2011 with the intent to inspire student interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It also enables students to learn about relevant United States Air Force career opportunities.

The event expanded a little bit from past years, and now has invited elementary students to observe. Next year’s event is tentatively scheduled for May.

A student operates a jet simulator using virtual reality during the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 7th annual Full Throttle STEM at Eldora Speedway May 14. (U.S. Air Force photo/Richard Eldridge)