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AFRL, AFIT help community college students gain real world STEM experience through SUCCESS project
Posted Tuesday, June 27, 2017


By Katie Scott, Air Force Institute of Technology

The Air Force Research Laboratory's Students from Community College Gaining Skills and Experience in STEM, or SUCCESS program as it's known, is designed as a vehicle to introduce community college students to AFRL and the larger Air Force to gain real world science, technology, engineering and math experience.

Community colleges serve close to half of the undergraduate students in the United States and are the gateway to postsecondary education for many minority, low income, and first-generation postsecondary education students, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. 

AFIT faculty member Dr. David Jacques (center), with SUCCESS Program interns John Wintersohle, Jamie Workman, Morgan Oldham, Evan Lynd, and Caitlin Jenkins. (Courtesy photo)

" Most recruiters are focused on bigger name schools and target students who already have experience in STEM. This program focuses on an often neglected population of students - those attending community college. Through SUCCESS, we bring community college students into AFRL as interns to gain the needed experience to be more competitive when permeant positions are available," said Dr. Mark Derriso, SUCCESS program manager. 

During the year long program, students receive a salary and tuition assistance. At the end of their time, their government supervisor can take over the funding requirements and potentially hire the student into a full-time position.

" Even if the student doesn't transition to a permanent position within AFRL, they have gained a wealth of experience to complement their education and have made connections with other professionals in their career field," said Derriso. 

During a lab session, SUCCESS Program interns collect data on different motor propulsion test combinations. (Courtesy photo)

Currently there are five students in the SUCCESS program who work in AFRL's Sensors Directorate, Airman Systems Directorate, and the Aerospace Systems Directorate. To build a connection with the other students in the program, a joint project was introduced this year where the students work with each other to solve a real world problem. AFRL teamed with AFIT on the joint project which involves a system level design, build, and flight test of an Unmanned Aircraft System, or UAS, to include the air vehicle and associated pay loads, a ground station computer, and communication between the ground and air components. Dr. David Jacques, Professor of Systems Engineering within AFIT's Graduate School of Engineering and Management, is working with the students to teach them UAS fundamentals and how to safely conduct flight tests with UAS. 

" The challenge project is to find a lost hiker, maintain visual contact, and deliver medical supplies or a communication device to them. The students have to provide surveillance of a target and keep it in the field of view of the camera and then they have to be able to deliver a quarter pound payload. They receive a CONOPS for the project that lays out the challenge problem. The students break it down to determine what they need on the UAS as well as the functions it must be able to perform. They take that information and develop a set of requirements and then design, build, and test in a rapid prototyping cycle," said Jacques.

During a lab session, SUCCESS Program interns collect data on different motor propulsion test combinations. (Courtesy photo)

The student's participate in labs where they run experiments on topics such as motor propulsion, communication and video subsystems, and telemetry. The project culminates in a flight test and evaluation scheduled for summer 2017.

John Wintersohle is a current SUCCESS Program intern working in AFRL's Sensors Directorate. After earning an associate's degree from Sinclair Community College, he transferred to Wright State University where he is working on a dual major in Computer Science and Computer Engineering.

Wintersohle was attracted to the SUCCESS Program because of the direct work experience he would gain.

" Any student who wants to get a job needs to be able to show that they can apply their knowledge," Wintersohle said. " Sometimes learning to apply the knowledge is as big of a challenge as learning the material itself. The SUCCESS program, and my time with Dr. Jacques, allows me the opportunity to apply what I already know, and learn more about what I don't, to actively solve problems. This program helps me develop myself academically and professionally. I really enjoy my time here and working with the other students."  

AFIT faculty member Dr. David Jacques mentors SUCCESS Program intern John Wintersohle. (Courtesy photo)

Participating in STEM outreach activities is a top priority for AFIT, and Jacques has been very involved with outreach efforts for many years.

" Coordinating UAS design projects is an area that we have a lot of experience in and I was happy to help with this project when our partners at AFRL contacted me. The students in the program have great enthusiasm and energy for the topic. I enjoy it. I think it is important to get students interested in engineering projects by hopefully making them fun, but also teaching them about interdisciplinary design - the fact that it isn't all electrical, computer, or aeronautical engineering. It tends to be a mix of all of the above in order to make a system work," said Jacques.

Jacques' focus on interdisciplinary team work has impacted the interns. Jaime Workman, an electrical engineering student at Wright State University commented that " this project has shown me that there is a lot of cross-disciplinary work to get a project done."   Morgan Oldham, a student at Wright State University studying biomedical engineering, echoed Workman's thought saying " In this program I have learned that no matter what type of engineering you are studying, the material learned in class can be applied across multiple engineering projects."

The interns are applying their new knowledge to school and work projects. Caitlin Jenkins, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Dayton, has learned about the process of designing, building, and testing and is confident this knowledge will be beneficial to her in her career.

Evan Lynd is a student at Wright State University studying computer engineering and is working at AFRL's Sensors Directorate. " I am currently working on software development for ground station control units. What we are doing here with the internship is related to my job because this UAS has a ground station control as well. I am able to learn the differences in the software and apply my experience to make each one better."

Working at AFRL through the SUCCESS program has opened Lynd's eyes to all of the opportunities for a computer engineer.

" I have always heard that Wright-Patt is the leader in technological advancement and this is where I want to be in my career. My goal right now is to learn as much as I can," said Evan.