AFCEA Tidewater hosts annual STEM mixer

  • Published
  • By Capt. Barrett G. Schroeder
  • Air Combat Command Public Affairs

The Tidewater Chapter of the Armed Forces Communication and Electronics Association International hosted their annual Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics mixer Oct. 19, at the Bayview Commonwealth Center on Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. The event, attended by over 100 students and family members, featured several science and technology exhibits created by elementary through high school seniors and guest speakers.

 Air Combat Command’s Chief Scientist Dr. John Matyjas attended the event and spoke about the role STEM plays in the everyday operations of Air Combat Command. Specifically, he described how many systems used by warfighters—such as radios, wireless capabilities and GPS—use the electromagnetic spectrum and require protection from electronic attacks. 

“In the U.S. we have the Federal Communications Commission which protects our usage of the electromagnetic spectrum,” explained Matyjas. “Around the globe, however, there are a lot of bad actors who try to take that ability away from us. We need to invent - and invest in - new capabilities to ensure our ability to use the electromagnetic spectrum and protect our freedoms.”

Matyjas also emphasized the importance of education and how a STEM degree can lead to future job opportunities outside of the technological industry.

“STEM skills are critical … STEM training in college leads to earning more even if [the graduate] doesn’t work in a STEM field,” said Matyjas. “Companies want those problem-solving abilities, learning to innovate to a solution and move fast when you are limited in resources and time is very valuable.”

Officially formed in 1946, AFCEA is a professional association that connects people, ideas and solutions through networking and educational opportunities. These connections enable the government, military, industry and academia to develop technology to best meet the needs of the defense, security, cyber and intelligence industries.  

To prepare the next generation for ever-changing threats the U.S. may face, the Department of Defense STEM Strategic Plan seeks to inspire community engagement in STEM education programs and activities to provide meaningful learning opportunities for students and educators. 

Organizations like AFCEA International support this initiative and encourage young minds. Additionally, the AFCEA Educational Foundation provides more than $1.8 million per year in scholarships to students interested in pursuing STEM degrees. 

One such scholarship recipient, Hima Prasad, received the World Wide Technology scholarship from the Tidewater Chapter this year and credits AFCEA as a catalyst for her interest in a STEM career.

“Because of my involvement with AFCEA, I could see the opportunities a career in STEM within the military could provide, so I happily captained the Drone Team within my Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps unit, where we learned basic [unmanned aerial vehicle] skills and participated in competitions around the state of Virginia,” she explained. “My research experiences in high school and in NJROTC helped me realize I wanted to enter a STEM career that could really have an impact on people and help them receive the best care and benefits that engineering and STEM could provide.”

Prasad now attends Boston University and is performing research that helps support recovery from injuries to the central nervous system. She also serves as the sophomore representative for the Boston University Student Engineering Government.

Clarence Bostic, another scholarship recipient who attends Hampton University, described how support from AFCEA Tidewater influenced his fields of study as well.

“I was glad to learn how very supportive the members [of AFCEA] were, and I appreciated how they continued to introduce me to more amazing people who were all willing to support me,” said Bostic. “Their support helped me to expand my plans for my future in the computer science field by selecting an additional Artificial Intelligence (AI) college minor.”