NAVAL AIR STATION NORTH ISLAND, Calif. –
STEM, which is an integration of four disciplines – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, encourages critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration in the educational and professional world. Its objective is to provide innovative solutions to real-world problems and it plays a crucial role in the advancement of medicine, environmental sustainability, technology, and other fields. The increasing need for skills and knowledge related to STEM is relative to the growing advancement in technology in modern industries. When Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (FRCSW) STEM ambassadors visit local communities, their goal is to utilize the STEM outreach program to inspire and create valuable opportunities to learn for both students and educators. The program also tries to empower both the students and FRCSW employees by fostering meaningful connections between Naval STEM efforts and the upcoming generation.
Emily Escalante, former FRCSW Aerospace Engineer and now a passionate Recruitment and Training Coordinator, oversees the command’s STEM outreach program. Inspired to have a career as a mechanical engineer during her first exposure to STEM in high school, Escalante later took on internships during her years at San Diego State University (SDSU). While STEM outreach was always a part of her collateral duty, she knew one day she would pursue it as her career.
“I see STEM as such a valuable and integral part of helping students who don’t know the opportunities that STEM can open up. I came from a family where no one was in STEM. I was always STEM oriented growing up, but didn’t have a role model to look up towards.” Escalante said.
As someone that was inspired by science and technology, Escalante’s enthusiasm for the program is certainly felt by students attending facility tours and other events hosted by the outreach program. Facility tours at FRCSW demonstrate what the students are learning in their classrooms and how it is applied on the job. It also gives students an opportunity to connect with hiring managers and opens up the possibility of working an internship in the outreach program.
FRCSW also has a longstanding partnership with the SDSU Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement (MESA) Program. During their annual MESA Shadow Day, community college and STEM students attend facility tours at FRCSW where they experience a one-on-one shadowing of FRCSW employees. Students get the opportunity to “look over the shoulder” of experienced engineers and scientists.
Several FRCSW engineers also express their passion for STEM in the form of mentorship and hands-on support by assisting local high school students in building different units for robotics competitions.
The STEM team’s involvement in the FIRST Robotics Competition with Lincoln High School expanded the team’s sphere of influence. The command now has eight mentors serving five local schools, and the team has clocked more than 500 hours of mentor support over the last competition year.
Earlier in 2023, FRCSW hosted a booth at the San Diego Science and Engineering Expo Day at Petco Park where students, parents, and educators got an interactive glimpse of the work done in the materials laboratory. This included 3D printing demos and aero structures and aerodynamic activities.
At NASNI, the outreach program hosted a booth at the National Naval Officers Association’s STEM Day on the flight line where over 700 participants interacted with demos and activities including the Van De Graaff generator which demonstrated static electricity. The FRCSW STEM outreach events provide invaluable opportunities for the next generation in the naval STEM community by fostering curiosity, inspiring interest, and nurturing essential skills, ultimately cultivating a diverse and skilled pool of future engineers and scientists.
“San Diego is such a diverse area, which allows us to service all kinds of different STEM folks. We traditionally assist low income, low resource, under representative communities. The diversity of opinions and perspectives from this group have been developed out of their unique need. It’s having that diversity of perspectives that we target in STEM. Differing perspectives and opinions matter and it’s those perspective that we like to bring here to FRCSW and NAVAIR. Their perspectives allow for a richer problem solving environment which allows the command to improve our readiness by implementing those solutions.” Escalante said.
When asked about the future of FRCSW’s STEM outreach program, Escalante says, “Everyone is seeing the impact done in the community by this program. We are continuously growing and we are working to double our budget for the next fiscal year. We have received requests not only locally, but also from programs in Mexico asking to bring students over for internships. We’re also working peer to peer with our college students and engaging them with our high school students as mentors. Our goal is to eventually have the high school students mentor the middle school students and then eventually down to elementary students.”
While the command sees a direct benefit to its next generation of personnel, STEM is critical to the United States Navy and Marine Corps due to its role in driving technological advancements, enhancing strategic capabilities, and ensuring national security. With ever-evolving challenges in maritime operations and national defense, STEM disciplines enable the development of cutting-edge equipment, communication systems, and innovative strategies. By fostering expertise in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the Navy and Marine Corps can maintain a competitive edge, adapt to emerging threats, and effectively address complex global issues, thereby safeguarding the nation’s interests on both domestic and international fronts.