Five current AFIT master’s degree students answered questions submitted by local middle and high school students as part of AFIT’s Engineers Week activities 14 May (U.S. Air Force Photo).
AFIT’s annual Engineers Week activities moved to a virtual environment in 2021. The team curated a webpage of videos and activities to inspire middle and high school students by introducing them to real-world applications of engineering. Videos included an interactive tour of AFIT laboratories and a paper airplane hands-on activity teaching students about design of experiments and the scientific method.
“As a graduate school at AFIT, we promote innovation and strive to provide an excellent education for our students and hope the students found the online videos and activities inspirational,” said Maj. Costantinos Zagaris, assistant professor of astronautical engineering and Engineers Week team lead.
The culmination of activities for this year’s activities was a virtual Q&A session with a panel of five current AFIT graduate students studying operations research, nuclear engineering, systems engineering and astronautical engineering.
In his welcoming remarks, Col. Andy McQuade, dean of students in AFIT’s Graduate School of Engineering and Management, gave three reasons why STEM education is important, pointing first to the theme of this year’s Engineers Week – Imagine Tomorrow. “You have to understand technology and where we are now so that you can think about the future,” said McQuade.
“Second, understanding STEM principles provides a way to relate and understand the hard problems that we face in the world today,” said McQuade. “We see more and different types of technological stories in the news, like the exploration of Mars or ideas on cleaning up the oceans, so it's important to be able to understand the information.”
Lastly, McQuade highlighted the critical thinking skills that are gained with STEM education. “Studying STEM teaches you how to ask questions, analyze information, and judge for yourself what you see and hear making you a better critical thinker.”
The AFIT student panel, Capt. Julia Bell, Lts. John O'Donnell, Preston Dicks, Charles Caines, and Ms. Marie Hansen, answered questions about their choice to study and Work in STEM fields and the types of classes to take in high school to be prepared for college. When asked for advice on how to pick a college major, Caines suggested to “try all of the sciences - you don't know what you like until you try.” Hansen piggybacked on Caines’ suggestion adding “don't be afraid to change your major if you aren't happy.”
Bell shared with the students that the motivation to do well in college will need to come from within as opposed to the external push from teachers and parents when in high school. Hansen also suggested that students can gain experience while in high school by joining specialized groups like robotics teams.
Engineers Week was founded by the National Society of Professional Engineers in 1951 and aims to raise public understanding and appreciation of engineers’ contributions to society. While the national Engineers Week is held in February, AFIT held their events in May due to class schedules.