JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas —
Col. Robert W. Trayers Jr., Air Force Recruiting Service vice commander, and Lt. Col. Steven Lamb, 502nd Installation Support Group vice commander, viewed two of Lackland Independent School District’s award-winning science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, programs Feb. 13 at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.
The colonels visited Virginia Allred Stacey Junior/Senior High School’s Bots in Blue and CyberPatriot teams.
The Bots in Blue is a FIRST Tech Challenge team, which designs, builds, and programs operates robots to compete head-to-head against other teams on a special playing field. During the 2018-2019 FTC South San Antonio Metro League Championship, they placed 2nd against 27 teams and earned the Control Award for programming excellence.
The CyberPatriots is a national youth cyber education program that the Air Force Association created to promote cybersecurity and other STEM careers.
“STEM is the framework of how things function,” Lamb said. “Understanding STEM empowers individuals to solve the most difficult complex problems.”
During the visit, Trayers and Lamb received presentations on the clubs’ growth and success, which the presenters contributed to the investment of Air Force partners via volunteer efforts and grants.
In addition, the colonels had the opportunity to watch students code programs, view multiple robots the students created and see a sneak peak of the robot currently being built and programed for their next competition. Trayers also had the chance to drive one of the award-winning robots.
“I was blown away by the teamwork and dedication the students and faculty exhibited in their desire to solve complex problems through STEM,” Lamb said. “The ability for 6th to 12th grade students to excel as well as they have in robotics and cyber tells me that these kids have endless opportunities in any occupation. I am so excited for their future.”
Teamwork was a common theme expressed throughout the visit with both clubs, a theme the military shares.
“Teamwork is the key to success,” Trayers said to the students. “Nobody can be successful – in the military or anywhere else – without being part of a team.”
The students’ passion for robotics, cyber security and technology overall was evident along with their pride for their achievements and success.
“Watching the students’ demonstrate the capabilities of their robots was my favorite part because they were so proud to talk about their team accomplishments and what their robots can do,” Lamb said.
Like the students, the teachers expressed passion for what they do and helping guide the students into being successful individuals in the future.
“We spend a lot of time and effort doing these things [club activities] and have had some success,” said Kenneth Kinsey, Stacey High School robotics/coding/engineering teacher. “It is momentary success. What they are going to be doing 20 years from now … we are laying down the foundation [for that]. This is going to set the tone for the rest of their lives.”
The students took turns sharing their plans for the future, what they hope to become.
One of the students, Jordan Peterson, son of Maj. Frederick Peterson, Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center installation engineer program manager, has already applied to the U.S. Air Force Academy with the goal of learning how aircrafts work by using his robotics knowledge as a foundation and becoming a pilot.
Another student, Madison Sligh, daughter of Chief Master Sgt. Carol Sligh, Defense language Institute English Learning Center superintendent, plans on becoming a veterinarian.
“It seems like a fair reach from this, but I promise it goes hand-in-hand,” she explained. “These guys [robots] have tempers every once in a while and, in the future, I will have to work with machines. Also, this teaches me to work under pressure and work with a team.”
Other students cited dreams to become music composers, surgeons and biomedical engineers. Others plan on work in the cybersecurity field and astronomy. Some, like Peterson, plan to join the military.
“I am very grateful to the school faculty and all the volunteer mentors who dedicated so much time to assist our students in mastering cyber and STEM activities,” Lamb said. “It is apparent from today’s visit that this next generation of STEM professionals will evolve our military into a futuristic environment normally considered science fiction.”
The STEM programs like Bots in Blue and CyberPatriot develop skills the students that the military looks for.
The Air Force has a wide range of STEM and computer-related career fields and professions available ranging from aerospace and operational physiology to bioenvironmental engineering to computer system programing.
Numerous Air Force career fields also use robotics. For example, security forces uses drones for patrolling bases’ perimeter while the explosive ordinance disposal unit uses robots to safely inspect and deal with explosive devices. Various medical fields also use robotics and technology in surgeries. Furthermore, sensor operators perform surveillance and reconnaissance as well as provide close air support with remotely piloted aircraft.
“The Air Force is well known for our technological advances, and we would have never seen such improvements to our capabilities without the dedication and sacrifice of so many students, professors, and scientist pushing the limits on what is possible,” Lamb said.