AFRL Partners With Dayton Regional STEM School


Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education is flying high in Dayton, Ohio, thanks to the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Among the many STEM initiatives AFRL fosters is a key partnership with the Dayton Regional STEM School (DRSS).

Ricardo Negron, Branch Chief of AFRL's Domestic Partnering Branch, was not only instrumental in spearheading the lab's partnership with DRSS, he was also part of the team that helped to bring the STEM school to the Dayton region. In 2007, when the Ohio legislature authorized funds for the creation of five regional STEM charter schools, Negron determined that technology transfer statutes would allow AFRL to serve as the technology partner for such a school. He then assisted Wright State University and a nonprofit dedicated to the development of regional STEM talent with writing the winning grant proposal to locate one of the planned STEM schools in Dayton.

DRSS first opened its doors to 93 ninth-grade students in August 2009. At that time, the leadership within the community looked to leverage the region's resources for collaborations with higher education, government, nonprofits, and private industry. As for a technology collaborator and mentor, DRSS had only to look across the street to its neighbor, AFRL, for assistance.

Each year since the school began, DRSS has added two grade levels, and is on track to offer a full combined middle- and high-school campus for grades 6 through 12 by the fall of 2012. The school's current enrollment is 350 students in grades 7 through 11.

AFRL is an ideal technology partner for DRSS. Some of the nation's most brilliant scientists and engineers work at there on leading-edge research in the areas of sensors, materials and manufacturing, propulsion, human performance, and air vehicles, the five AFRL technology directorates located at Wright Patterson.

DRSS has access to this talented pool of AFRL scientists and engineers through an Education Partnership Agreement signed with AFRL in 2011. The agreement formalizes the partnership that has existed since 2009.and enables the school to work seamlessly with the five AFRL directorates.

"STEM education is the key to the Dayton region's and to our state's economic future," stated Joe Sciabica, AFRL Executive Director. "The quality of life for our citizens, the new technological products that will come to market, and the technological edge our U.S. Air Force will maintain are based on our ability to grow and sustain a technical brain trust right here in Ohio."

Throughout the year, DRSS teachers request assistance from AFRL. In one class, students were studying the physics of rockets, and the engineering teacher asked AFRL whether there was a "real" rocket scientist at the lab. An Air Force colonel at AFRL fit that job description perfectly, and served as the subject-matter expert for the project, giving students insight into the areas of trajectory, force, and inertia. AFRL scientists and engineers also co-teach when a teacher requests a technology expert. During the current school year, an Air Force engineer is co-teaching the Principles of Engineering class, part of the nationwide Project Lead the Way curriculum, to11th grade students. Additionally, AFRL scientists and engineers serve as evaluators for student capstone projects. These projects are developed toward the end of educational units, and community partners are invited to the student presentations.

AFRL also supports the school's career development and growing after-school programs. As a result of the guidance department's request for job-shadowing and internship experiences, AFRL now hosts groups of students in the various labs at Wright Patterson. And during career fair days, AFRL is always represented to educate students about working at AFRL. Many scientists and engineers provide after-school tutoring to students, and others serve as robotics and Science Olympiad team coaches.

Providing educational leadership since DRSS's beginning, Ricardo Negron, himself an AFRL engineer, serves on the school's board in an ex-officio position. Negron has taken an active role in the staffing and continued growth of DRSS. "The Air Force Research Laboratory provides a learning environment for students and teachers, and we are excited to be part of the region's educational culture and are dedicated to its success," he said.

Negron and the AFRL STEM program at Wright Patterson have received the 2012 FLC STEM Award.