Mentoring program aims to plant seeds of interst in minds of future engineers Published May 21, 2009 By Kendahl Johnson 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Forty students from two local middle schools may have felt like they hit the lottery when they received free laptop computers. But luck played no part in the gift; it was because of the students' involvement in a mentoring program called Area Coalition for Education-Excellence. The program targets students who have a proficiency in mathematics and science based on standardized test scores. The students are then matched up with mentors, many who are employees of Robins and are already working in the engineering and technical career fields. "We get volunteer mentors to pair up with students to help them understand careers in the math and science fields," said Kenneth Percell, director of engineering for the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center. "These mentors help local school students navigate obstacles in working toward engineering and technical careers, as well as giving them moral support in reaching their full potential." Mr. Percell is the ACE-E program director for Robins. He brought the mentoring program here as one initiative to help the base gain greater exposure as a strong aviation employer and increase the number of qualified engineers who want to stay in the area and work at Robins. The 40 students in the program, who were selected from Thomson and Northside middle schools, are identified as "underserved," meaning they don't necessarily have access to the potential of technology or the encouragement to pursue careers in science and mathematics. They were each given a laptop computer to help them stay connected. "The laptops are for doing their homework, but also to help them expand on their interest in math, science and technology and let that interest blossom through the use of computers," Mr. Percell said. He said the mentors, who meet with the students weekly at the school, will be able to continue to provide encouragement and support to the students during the summer break via the computers. MaryLou Medina, who is the special emphasis program manager at Robins, said the program gives students the opportunity to see first-hand what goes on at Robins. "It's great to give them the exposure so they can understand how we operate. Hopefully this can encourage them to pursue careers in science and math and come to work at Robins," she said. "There are so many people out here who are willing to give up their time to share with the children. In a few years, we are going to see results. I am certain of it." Susan Solis, a program analyst who helped arrange for the students to have a tour of the 402nd Electronics Maintenance Group, said she is excited about the program because it benefits both the students and the base. "Yes, we are promoting the base, but we are also encouraging these students to study hard and continue to have an interest in the fields of math and science so they have the potential to be our future engineers here," she said. Chris Jackson, a sixth grader at Thompson Middle School who was one of the 40 students who visited Robins, said visiting the base and seeing what goes on here was a "cool" experience and it sparked some interest in working for the Air Force in the future.