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Air Force sponsored camp provides materials needed to promote science

Science camp: Living in a materials world

WASHINGTON -- With a propane-fueled burner spewing out colorful flames inches from her face, Hope Sanders blew bubbles through a thin rod of glass. She was like a kid at summer camp having a blast.

Sanders, in fact, was at camp – an ASM Materials Camp held at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and sponsored by the U.S. Air Force.

The retired Air Force master sergeant, who is a JROTC instructor at Space Coast High School in Florida, was one of 30 high school teachers who attended the five-day science camp, which wrapped up Friday at Howard.

ASM Materials Education Foundation puts on the camps designed to train educators how to make science interesting to their students by using hands-on experiments that are simple to demonstrate, inexpensive and fun to do.

“I came not knowing what to expect,” said Sanders who has four years of classroom experience. “It’s been a week of innovation and technology that I knew existed but did not know how it tied into our particular curriculum.”

Part of her Air Force JROTC instruction, Sanders said, includes lessons on aerospace science. After a week at the science camp, Sanders said she’s learned how to use some of the lab experiments and to show how they relate to the science of flight.

“I can’t wait to get back and share this with my counterparts at Space Coast,” she said. “My students will love it. It’s something they can do, that they can show how a process works, things that won’t take a long period of time but still give you the understanding of why things work the way they do.”

Gary Strack is the director of the Air Force STEM Outreach Coordination Office. STEM stands for Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, and Strack’s office exists to promote those four fields of study. Since 2008, the Air Force, in its efforts to promote STEM studies, has sponsored an ASM Materials Camp at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

“We’ve gotten great feedback from the teachers, good statistics about the amount of lessons they’re putting in their classrooms and the number of students going on to pursue STEM degrees in colleges and universities,” said Strack.

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Because the camp in Ohio has been so successful, Strack said the Air Force decided to sponsor four camps this year, one of which was at Howard. And, he added, the Air Force is planning to expand their sponsorship even further in coming years.

Sponsoring a single materials camp costs the Air Force $30,000 the first year a program is set up and $15,000 per camp in subsequent years, Strack said.

In all, the Air Force spends more than $40 million per year on STEM outreach activities, and officials estimate that more than 100,000 students and teachers are reached or affected by the 150 or so STEM outreach activities offered each year.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Jocelyn Seng, who spoke at the close of the ASM Materials Camp at Howard, noted that the investment is worth it to ensure the Air Force benefits from future innovators.

In her speech, Seng referenced radar-absorbing materials that coat U.S. stealth fighters to allow them to fly undetected. She spoke of advancements in composite materials that allow the building of lighter planes and engines that burn fuel more efficiently.

Because materials, “the start of the food chain of all the things around us,” are foundational to technology, the Air Force has a vested interest in the success of the materials camps, she said.

“The Air Force considers itself the technology service,” said Seng, the mobilization assistant in the office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force. “Our foundation is science and technology, and all our war-fighting capabilities in some way depend on that. So to fill the pipelines to ensure we have future innovation and the latest technology by which to defend our nation, it is really important to foster future airmen to have that kind of strength.”

bongioannic@stripes.osd.mil

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