SMC steps up to support STEM at USC
By Lt. Col Thomas Lenz, Peggy Hodge and James Spellman, Jr., Space and Missile Systems Center Engineering Directorate and Public Affairs Office
/ Published October 15, 2015
LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, El Segundo, Calif. -- Twenty members from the Space and Missile Systems Center volunteered their time and support for an outreach program Oct. 10 at the University of Southern California's Viterbi School of Engineering. The "Lasers 4 Ladies" event focused on demonstrating optics and photonics to over 500 middle and high school female students from across the greater Los Angeles region.
As part of the International Year of Light 2015, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' Photonics Society International established the "Introduce a Girl to Photonics Week" to support their Women in Photonics initiative.
Events around the globe were organized to show female students how photonics impacts the world around them and inspire interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related careers.
"The betterment of our society is dependent on innovation; education is limitless and knows no bound," said Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, SMC commander and Air Force Program Executive Officer for Space. "Our priorities in STEM come straight from the president's 'Educate to Innovate' campaign to motivate and inspire students in STEM subjects."
"The ultimate goal of the L4L event is to increase the number of students pursuing engineering degrees. The best ways to motivate young people are to provide role models and to demonstrate why engineering is impacting society," explained USC Associate Professor Andrea Armani, event organizer and Fluor Early Career Chair in Engineering in the Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science.
"By hosting a tent at the event which explained GPS, engineers from SMC accomplished both goals. Additionally, SMC personnel helped in many other supporting roles which are equally critical to the success of a large event, such as registration and event set-up and tear-down," said Armani.
Demonstrations included activities on virtual reality, lasers, solar cells and optical fiber. SMC's Global Positioning System Directorate provided a satellite constellation exhibit demonstrating "triangulation." The SMC History Office provided graphics and scale models of satellites and launch vehicles highlighting the importance of SMC's mission to the local community and encouraging students to consider STEM-related fields of study.
Amanda Cordes, from SMC's Advanced Systems and Development Directorate and Air Force Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation, or SMART, scholarship program student, led the SMC team of volunteers.
"One of the most rewarding parts of the event for me was the opportunity to share my love of science with young female students interested in science and engineering. Part of the event included the students answering science and engineering questions on a bingo card," said Cordes.
"Several times I was able to make a direct correlation between optics and everyday use or applications," Cordes explained. "For instance, one question asked, 'How are optics used in cell phones?' At that point, I would ask the student to take a selfie or picture in front of the SMC booth and then I would ask, 'Now do you know how the camera focuses? Optics! Which you use every day. The students really liked this."
"I was proud to be part of the Viterbi School of Engineering "Lasers 4 Ladies" day event at USC and represent SMC and the Los Angeles Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association chapter," said Andrea Loper, SMC program manager for acquisition and contract support.
"It was amazing to see the students walk up to our SMC booth wanting to know more about the GPS satellite constellation and understand the exhibit demonstrating triangulation, how GPS satellites help users pinpoint their geographic position," said Loper. "I really enjoyed answering their questions. Their curiosity and interest in learning from the event is a testament to the importance of STEM outreach activities."