Wright-Patterson offers virtual STEM camps, apprenticeships to inspire next generation
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – The Educational Outreach Office is hosting virtual summer camps and apprenticeships for more than 300 participants this year. Funded by the Air Force Research Laboratory, the LEGACY program registered 228 kids for its weeklong Craftsman Camps and arranged two-month apprenticeships for 82 high school and college students.
“Our goal is to bring these kids into the STEM pipeline and show them how much fun they can have working for the Air Force,” said Daniel Andrews, the division chief of the Wright-Patterson AFB K-12 STEM Office. He explained that, rather than cancel programs due to COVID-19, his office opted to “go the extra mile” and transition to a virtual environment. This year, the instructors will live-stream lessons to guide the kids through scientific experiments and hands-on activities.
“Everything that we are doing, the kids can watch at home on a computer or tablet,” Andrews said. The instructors will also post these videos to a YouTube channel so that kids and parents can view them anytime. Since each group has its own unique, age-appropriate lessons, the LEGACY program is hosting 20 different virtual camps from four sites. Students from each age group (11-to-15 year-olds) will meet for an hour and a half on three days during their scheduled week.
While previous camps lasted six hours a day, with the “kids completing schoolwork virtually, we don’t want to overwhelm them or burden the parents,” said Niki Lange, LEGACY program manager. “Our main goal is to make this experience as fun and as hands-on as we can,” she said.
To ensure the kids can fully participate, the LEGACY program provided all materials free of charge. After assembling the items into kits, program support staff shipped them in backpacks to the other participating STEM sites at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Hill Air Force Base and Eglin AFB. Site leads hosted pick-up events to distribute the materials to the parents.
LEGACY, which stands for Leadership Experience Growing Apprenticeships Committed to Youth, is an Air Force-led outreach program that focuses on under-represented or underserved students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, fields. The goal is to attract, inspire and develop the next generation of the nation’s scientific and technical workforce.
To facilitate the junior apprenticeships and apprenticeships, Wright-Patterson AFB arranged for the high school and college students to telework. Some mentors, who usually welcome students into the labs, were unable to support the program virtually this summer, so while about half of the interns complete assignments for their mentors, the others will work on Air Force related group projects. Mentors come from various organizations including AFRL, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, the Air Force Institute of Technology and the 88th Air Base Wing.
The Educational Outreach Office also coordinated online professional development classes for these students teaching skills like writing resumes, delivering presentations, interviewing for jobs and completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
To enroll in the LEGACY program, students submit letters of recommendation written by teachers, pastors and coaches. The minimum required GPA for high school students is 2.5, which is lower than other STEM programs to “cast a wider net,” said Andrews.
First piloted at Wright-Patterson AFB in 2017, the LEGACY program achieved an 80% student return rate after its first year. With this early success, the initiative expanded to other sites in Utah, Colorado and Florida. In just three years, it has led to numerous success stories. Several participants went on to the AFRL Scholars, Pathways and Premier College Internship Programs. Another is a U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet, and two students received Department of Defense SMART scholarships to attend college while working for the Air Force.
LEGACY is mentor-driven, and kids are encouraged to return year after year, moving from the Craftsman Camp phase to the junior apprenticeship and apprenticeship phases, Andrews said. However, kids are welcome to apply to the program at any phase, he notes.
“We hope the kids reach out to us as they further their education and pursue their chosen careers so that we can support them along their journey.”
The Wright-Patterson AFB Department of Defense STARBASE camp, funded by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, is also going virtual this summer with online lessons and STEM activity kits. Sixty-six fifth through eighth-graders registered for this two-day camp.