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The Cutting Edge of STEM Technology: Introducing The Air Force Collaboratory

This is a sponsored message from The Air Force Collaboratory Did you know that amongst all the American college students who major in a science,...

This is a sponsored message from The Air Force Collaboratory

Did you know that amongst all the American college students who major in a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) field, 38 percent do not end up graduating with a STEM degree? Yet, as the number of American students with STEM degrees decline, it’s projected that 92 percent of STEM jobs will require some post-secondary education by 2018.

To help raise awareness that STEM is a driving force behind the competitive technologies and life-saving innovations of the future, the Air Force created its first collaborative online platform known as The Air Force Collaboratory. First Lieutenant Thomas McNitt, a research behavioral scientist for the battlefield air targeting man-aided knowledge (BATMAN) program, says, “This program will emphasize the importance of STEM education by providing real-world applications.”

Participants will have a chance to put their STEM skills to the test to solve three different challenges. For the first challenge, launching on August 1, Air Force Pararescuemen—highly trained Airmen who specialize in search and rescue—seek help in developing new technologies to improve life-saving capabilities. Specialized tools are needed when trying to safely remove people out of collapsed structures, and engineering know-how is the key to saving as many lives as possible safely.

Through a combination of learning tools, such as videos and research documents, participants will gain the background knowledge to begin thinking of innovative solutions to challenges. “Users will be posting solutions to real world challenges faced by the Air Force daily.”

During the first project phase, participants, alongside Air Force scientists, engineers, integrators, and program managers, will work to develop, refine, prototype and test ideas to help find life trapped under collapsed structures. Though the ideas will be reviewed and approved, McNitt notes, “There is no wrong solution.”

For McNitt, participating in The Air Force Collaboratory was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. “Participants will not be posting comments to a bot moderator, but rather actual Air Force specialists will be providing feedback [on participant ideas],” says McNitt. “When I found this out, I immediately wanted to get involved.”

McNitt adds that one of the project’s other goals is to change the perspective of the general public about what it means to be an Airman: “Tech-savvy people do in fact have a home in the Air Force, whether it is in a lab doing state-of-the-art research or in a shop designing the next micro robot.”

But by presenting tough technical challenges, do McNitt and the Air Force expect participation mainly from trained scientists? “Just because someone doesn’t have a formal education in a technical field does not mean they can’t contribute,” says McNitt. “The unseasoned mind may have the most innovative and out-of-the-box idea.”

In fact, McNitt sees young people as a huge source for innovative ideas that have the power to make change. By giving youth the opportunity to interact and hear guidance from trained scientists, he believes the result raises awareness for STEM skills: “By broadening education at a younger age, I believe you plant a seed that will grow with limitless potential.”

If you want to put your STEM skills to the test, check out The Air Force Collaboratory here.

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