Ensuring Robins, state equipped with future STEM pros

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  • By Brian Shreve
  • Public Affairs Office
It's never too early to start training the future engineering and scientific workforce of Robins Air Force Base. 

To that end, base recruiters, local educators and school administrators gathered Sept. 12 for a conference at the Museum of Aviation to discuss ways to increase students' excitement about science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.  

Representatives from Houston, Bibb, Laurens and Dodge County school systems - roughly a dozen of them teachers - looked to build the foundation for their schools' Georgia Department of Education STEM certification which requires industry collaboration and could take several years to obtain.  

STEM Summit 2.0 served as an outgrowth of the first summit conducted in January, said Jamie Cook, Air Force Sustainment Center supervisory general engineer.

The long-term goal is to ensure Robins, and the state, is equipped with the future STEM professionals it needs.

"We're here today to supplement the education process and learn ways to increase student awareness of how they'll use science and math in their lives, careers, and the awesome opportunities that await them with the right education," said Cook. "We have an insatiable engineering need at Robins to maintain our weapons systems and aircraft."

Although Georgia has some esteemed engineering programs, Cook said the base has had to recruit personnel from outside the state. 

"There are just not enough of them coming out of the schools," he said. "And when we go outside of Georgia to find these engineers and other STEM personnel, retaining them becomes an issue because they may eventually want to go back home. Growing them locally greatly helps the Middle Georgia economy by providing a more skilled workforce."

The meeting outlined several programs for kindergarten through 12th grade students, which offer hands-on academics aimed at making STEM education enjoyable and applicable. 

Programs presenting their individual opportunities for partnership included the museum's National STEM Academy, STARBASE Robins, Georgia Tech, Fort Valley State University, Georgia Southern University and the University of Georgia.  

Kristy Cummings, Alexander II Math and Science Magnet School lead science teacher, said when students - no matter how young - are able to incorporate STEM education into their lives, the subjects become less challenging as they advance through high school, college and into their careers.

"For teachers, this is a really important day," she said. "I have the privilege of working with elementary school students, and when they see that math is more than just algorithms but problem solving, or that science is more than just reading about it but experiments, they get excited. And that passion is already there as they get older."

Though Alexander II has focused primarily on math and science since the 1970s, it is currently seeking its STEM certification in an effort to integrate more technology and engineering into the curriculum

Cummings said it's an advantage that students are becoming increasingly technology-savvy due to cell phones and computers.  

Aside from the educational and financial benefits of students' increased knowledge and interest in STEM, Cook said there are also the incentives of a safer America.  

"There are growing missions in electronic warfare, and as planes age, the technology inside them has to be state of the art because new technology is being used against us," he said. "We have to make sure our defensive and offensive strengths stay that way in the world we face today and for future generations."