AFTAC hosts Student Expo in conjunction with WiSE Symposium

  • Published
  • By Susan A. Romano
  • AFTAC Public Affairs
The Air Force Technical Applications Center, headquartered at Patrick Space Force Base, Fla., hosted its annual Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) Symposium March 12-13 at the Space Coast Health Foundation in Brevard County.
On the second day of the symposium, nearly three dozen exhibitors with a wide array of academic, professional, corporate and leadership experience displayed their wares and techno-gadgetry for students to enjoy. 
The event also allowed attendees to engage with inspiring science, technology, engineering and math leaders, ask questions, advance mentorship opportunities, network with other students, participate in hands-on activities, and enter into STEM team-building competitions.
The WiSE Symposium, which began in 2014, is a diversity initiative to highlight and bring attention to the value that gender diversity brings to the STEM workforce.  It also focuses on encouraging mentorship and networking opportunities for those interested in pursuing and excelling in STEM careers.
This year’s theme, “Farther Together,” was chosen to inspire those in attendance to seek out mentors, network with professionals in a variety of STEM fields, and learn from leaders who have achieved great success as senior scientific experts.
Jevin Allen, a 10th grader at Rockledge High School, checked out the virtual reality simulator hosted by U.S. Air Force Recruiting.  With goggles firmly in place, the 16-year-old tested his ability to fly an F-35 and operate the refueling boom on a KC-135.
“This is really cool!” Jevin said.  “When my dad told me we were coming here today, I didn’t know what to expect, but visiting all the booths and displays has been very helpful.  The flying visuals on this VR sim are amazing, and makes me want to become an Air Force pilot even more now!”
There was a cross-section of students ranging in age from elementary school through high school, as well as a group of young adults from the Brevard County BLAST (“Brevard Learners Achieving Successful Transition”) program.  Escorted by Eau Gallie High School educator Dina Casabianca, 12 BLAST students arrived with smiles on their faces and excitement in their eyes, recalling how much fun they had when they participated in WiSE in 2023.
“Our students get so pumped up when they are around military people,” Casabianca said.  “The best part is that the briefers and display operators adjust their presentations to our levels, which is really appreciated.”
BLAST is designed to meet the needs of the Exceptional Education Students up to the age of 22 so they can work toward a level of independent living.
According to Casabianca, one of her students, Whitney, fell in love with the Robo-Dog presentation last year and couldn’t stop talking about it.  “As soon as we found out when the 2024 symposium was taking place, Whitney made us promise that we’d attend again this year!”
Homeschool instructor Nicole Sullivan accompanied her students to the event and was impressed to see the level of detail and depth of STEM demos on display.
“Programs like this give our students a chance to learn about the world around them in a ‘hands-on’ environment,” she said.  “That is so important because it shows them about the opportunities they will have when it comes time to make decisions about their future and what careers they might want to pursue.”
Some of the live demonstrations included the effects of liquid nitrogen on everyday objects; the dynamics and operational capabilities of a Tesla coil; how to wear space goggles; the science of drones; and the aforementioned Robo-Dog.
Na’Resse Butts, a 5th grader from Holland Elementary School, seemed to thoroughly enjoy the liquid nitrogen demo.
“I loved when the scientist took the gummy bears and froze them!” she exclaimed.  “When I put it in my mouth, it was solid as a rock and it stuck to the roof of my mouth.  I love science and doing experiments like this.  I’m going to join the Air Force someday and be a cyber scientist!”
Since its inception, AFTAC’s WiSE Symposium has seen a variety of distinguished presenters, including two Secretaries of the Air Force; the first female 4-star general and first black 3-star general in the Air Force; an original Rosie the Riveter; the deputy director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency; the former National Commander and Chief Executive Officer of Civil Air Patrol; and an introductory message from a former First Lady of the United States.
Maj. David Alvarado, AFTAC’s project officer for this year’s symposium, was thrilled with the turn out and the degree of support he received from the keynote speakers and presenters.
“Events like this don’t happen in a vacuum,” he said.  “To put together a symposium of this caliber takes an incredible amount of time, work and effort, and the members of the WiSE committee took it to a level we’ve never seen before.  We had more than 600 people in attendance this year over the two days.  I can’t thank them enough, and we are so appreciative of our visiting dignitaries for taking the time out of their schedules to impart their words of wisdom on our attendees.  Their participation is invaluable and allows us to continue the tradition of making WiSE bigger and better every year.”
He added, “And when I get to see the looks on the faces of the young people, including my own daughter, who come to the Expo, it makes it all worthwhile, knowing we are doing our best to introduce and expose them to the crucial world of science, engineering and technology!”