Air Force Encourages STEM Careers for Secondary School Students
Matthew Greenwood posted on June 11, 2018 | recently attended the USA Science & Engineering Festival this past April in Washington, D.C. At the festival, we had the chance to speak to Lt. Col. Janelle T.H. Jackson, Commander, 317th Recruiting Squadron for the U.S. Air Force, about encouraging school students—in particular girls and underrepresented students—to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Lt. Col. Janelle Jackson's career path from engineering to the U.S. Air Force.

U.S. Air Force engineering career path.

The U.S. Air Force is actively working to address the critical need for STEM talent not only in the military but also in the broader workforce. A diversified STEM talent pool will enable the United States to set the pace of technological advancements; and for the military, it will help U.S. forces stay abreast of technological changes and retain a combat edge for its soldiers.

Jackson is advocating for students in middle and high school to consider careers in STEM. “Students start to form their ideas of what they want to be when they grow up in that middle school age range,” she said. “We want to inspire them to look at the fact that STEM is all around them, in everything they do.”

Jackson believes that inspiring students to pursue STEM careers will benefit not only the military. “Of course, by wearing the uniform I would love for you to come in to the Air Force … but if you don’t come in to the military, we know that you’re going to definitely contribute to society by being an engineer or mathematician—or going into STEM in some area.”

Jackson also encourages students to consider the Air Force when pursuing a STEM career. The Air Force provides a guaranteed and rewarding career that begins right out of college and features excellent health and education benefits. In particular, the Air Force makes it possible for recruits to obtain undergraduate and graduate educations—for free. “You can all that education, the security of a career, and you can give back to your field,” she said. In addition, the Air Force has a network of advanced research labs across the country, and provides the opportunity for people to work on cutting-edge aircraft and spacecraft—things that would uniquely appeal to a STEM grad.

The Air Force is working on overcoming gender and ethnic diversity gaps in STEM fields. Jackson encourages individuals with STEM degrees and careers to go back to the classroom to talk about their successes and inspire young people. In particular, STEM professionals from diverse backgrounds can be role models for these students. “The one comment that I get most often is, ‘I don’t see anyone who looks like you—therefore how do I know that I can be an engineer?’”

Jackson knows from personal experience how important those role models can be. Her mother, who was a scientist, influenced Jackson’s commitment to study, her career choice and “what I knew was possible for me.” She was also inspired by Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel to space. In addition, Jackson admired the work of engineers who studied the Challenger space shuttle tragedy to solve safety risks for future space flights.

The Air Force recognizes how important STEM professionals will be to maintaining its place at the forefront of technology—and it is counting on today’s bright young minds to keep it there.

Got a cool science project? Submit it to the Impossible Science Student Challenge for a chance to win a live Impossible Science Stage Show at your school, featuring World Champion Magician Jason Latimer. The deadline for submissions is June 30.

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