By Susan A. Romano, AFTAC Public Affairs
/ Published October 02, 2018
PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- With the help of members of the Air Force Technical Applications Center, children and adults alike were drawn to synchronized music emanating from a Tesla coil on display at the National Organization of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers annual conference Sept. 17-18 in Orlando.
The conference is NOBCChE’s premier event where visiting students can interact with corporate, academic, non-profit and government professionals in the fields of chemistry, chemical engineering, and other STEM-related fields. Each year, the organization hosts a Science Bowl for students in grades 4 to 12, with questions that focus heavily on well-known scientists and inventors of color throughout history.
AFTAC Airmen volunteered their time to serve as judges, time keepers, score keepers and room facilitators for the Science Bowl on day one of the program. NOBCChE is dedicated to building a cadre of young people from all walks of life, while inspiring and supporting minority students to pursue careers in science and technology.
AFTAC, the Department of Defense’s sole organization responsible for nuclear treaty monitoring, has more than 1,000 personnel who have vast scientific experience and educations: chemists, physicists, nuclear engineers, biologists, mathematicians, geologists and seismologists, just to name a few. They are highly sought after by schools, companies and organizations to assist with STEM-related events. The NOBCChE conference was no exception.
“It was a top-notch experience for me,” said Yvette Coleman, one of the 15 AFTAC volunteers. “I enjoyed seeing all the different universities and corporations that took part, but the most important highlight for me was watching the students participate in the Science Bowl.”
On day two of the conference, Airmen set up an interactive display in conference exhibit hall that included seismometers, vacuum pumps, 3-D printers and the always-entertaining Tesla coil. The high-voltage wireless transformer created visual bolts of lightning set to music, which has the capacity to generate up to 250,000 volts, and drew quite a crowd.
Alfred Cook, a science teacher at Flint Southwester Classical Academy in Flint, Mich., escorted four of his top students to the conference to expose them to STEM professionals from all walks of life and give them a chance to compete in the science bowl.
“Our goal on this trip was to take first place in the bowl while putting Flint and our school on the map,” Cook said with pride. “We’ve been training for this for months now, both before and after school, using our own curriculum as well as anything we could find online to give us a competitive edge. Of course our biggest challenge is always financing a trip like this, but these students are the best of the best and it’s a great experience for them.”
Flint has had its share of news headlines recently, most prominent being the water crisis the city has faced. The situation has had an obvious and influential impact on Cook’s science bowl competitors.
One of his students, Keishaun Wade, was unequivocal when asked what he wants to be when he graduates: “I will be an urban planner. I want to change Flint.”
James “Griff” Griffieth, a frequent AFTAC STEM volunteer, explained why he thinks it’s important to stay engaged with the youth of today.
“This year was especially meaningful to me since NOBCChE sponsored a school from Flint,” Griff said. “It was great getting to know these kids who have been through so much in their young lives, yet they are persevering in the quest for knowledge and looking at how they can change the future. People ask why I volunteer, and it comes down to two simple things: we are all responsible to give back to our community whenever possible, and I really derive a lot of joy from helping these young adults experience science and technology in hopes to inspire them to be the next Nikola Tesla or Mae Jamison.”
In addition to the interactive STEM display, AFTAC’s chief of recruiting, Rose Day, managed a booth in the exhibition hall to encourage students to consider employment with the Department of Defense’s sole nuclear treaty monitoring center.
“NOBCChE is my favorite recruiting event of the year because this organization really focuses on mentoring and inspiring the next generation of STEM professionals,” said Day. “Most of the students we met had been involved with NOBCChE since high school and are now stand-out undergraduate, graduate, and even doctoral students from the best technology institutions in the country such as MIT and Georgia Tech. Many of them were very interested in our SMART Service for Scholars and Palace Acquire Intern programs that help fund their education and guarantee employment upon graduation.”
For more information about AFTAC’s STEM outreach program or to learn more about a career at AFTAC, send an email to AFTAC.Jobs@us.af.mil.