DOBBINS AIR RESERVE BASE, Ga. -- When it comes to inspiring the next generation of aviators, former 22nd Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Stayce Harris knows that continual support and development of science, technology, engineering and math programs are key to instilling passion in young people.
During a recent visit to the U.S. Air Force’s Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins, Georgia, Harris welcomed the impromptu opportunity to speak to 18 middle school-aged girls taking part in the museum’s Mission Quest Flight Simulation program. The group attended the museum’s program as part of the “Spectacles 2016” summer camp hosted by Wesleyan College.
According to Chrissy Miner, president and chief operating officer of the Museum of Aviation Foundation, the Mission Quest Flight Simulation is one of many programs focused on STEM and aviation heritage that the museum offers.
This particular program is a hands-on teambuilding experience that gives students a chance to work with others to solve problems and collectively accomplish a realistic flying mission, Miner said.
“Our focus is to build and preserve the legacy of aviation and the Air Force for generations to come,” she continued. “We do that by making a continual effort to foster innovation and bridge the gap between the past and the future.”
Part of bridging that gap is where mentors and volunteers like Harris come in.
During her time with the group, Harris encouraged the girls to challenge themselves and seize opportunities.
“I am so proud to see smart, ambitious girls like you pursuing your interests in science, technology, engineering and math,” Harris said. “I want you to know that tremendous opportunities await you--the sky really is the limit.”
Harris also shared her insight on pursuing greatness.
“One of the most valuable life lessons I have learned along the way is that you have to trust in yourself and be persistent in your goals” she said. “It’s my hope that your time here today will open your eyes to a world of exciting possibilities, and I look forward to seeing how you bright and motivated young ladies will become leaders for your generation.”
Miner explained the vital role that guest speakers play in the success of the museum’s educational programs and STEM initiatives.
“It is such an amazing opportunity for these girls to see someone in the flesh who is a career aviator and soon-to-be three star general,” Miner said. “Being able to meet people who have had that kind of success opens up a world of possibilities for them and gives them something to strive for.”
Melissa Spalding, education director for the Museum of Aviation, agreed, noting the dedication of volunteers who support the museum’s camps and programs.
“The outpouring of support we get from people like Maj. Gen. Harris and the entire Robins Air Force Base community is huge,” Spalding said. “There are so many wonderful people willing to lend their time and talents to mentor these young students.”
Having the opportunity to meet and work alongside engineers and aviators from around the Air Force provides a memorable experience that further inspires students to pursue STEM careers, she said.
“The experience our students get, along with the exposure to mentors, has an incredible impact on workforce and career development for students of all ages,” Spalding said.
“To know they’ve met somebody who’s doing the job, and not only that, they have made it to the rank of general--that’s a big deal,” she explained. “For many of our students, it’s like meeting a celebrity. That really connects them and makes their experience at the museum authentic.”
From Miner’s perspective, that’s what the museum’s programs are all about.
“That is our ultimate goal--to support interest and enthusiasm in STEM and aviation career fields,” Miner concluded.
To learn more about the Museum of Aviation’s programs and volunteer opportunities, visit the Museum of Aviation website. For more information about K-12 STEM activities and events, visit the Air Force STEM website.
Editor’s Note: Lt. Gen. Stayce Harris is now the Assistant Vice Chief of Staff and Director, Air Staff, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C. She also serves as Deputy Chairman of the Air Force Council, and is the Air Force accreditation official for the international Corps of Air Attaches.