COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
The 14th Flying Training Wing will host the “Wings Over Columbus” Air Show and first large scale Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) Expo 26-27 March 2022.
The STEM Expo is the largest event of its kind held at Columbus AFB in conjunction with the air show. Over 30 STEM exhibitors in the fields of aviation, engineering, robotics, forensics, military sciences unmanned vehicles and cyber will be on display throughout the event.
“The thing that makes this event so special is actually what is going to happen on the 25th of March,” said Tech. Sgt. Javier Cruz, 14th Flying Training Wing, NCOIC Public Affairs & “Wings Over Columbus” STEM Expo coordinator. “As the STEM coordinator I saw an opportunity to take advantage of the performer practice day. I was inspired by Naval Air Station OCEANA in Virginia. They host a very large STEM day on their air show practice day and I wanted to do that here at Columbus. The STEM Expo runs all weekend but the 25th is just for the students.”
Over 540 high school and college students pre-registered to attend the student-only STEM Expo day.
“So far we have about 20 schools signed up for the student only day,” said Cruz. “It might not sound like a lot, but when I started this project I initially reached out to over 153 schools. COVID has been a major factor in preventing some schools from being able to participate.”
The STEM Expo is an unfunded air show activity and currently does not meet the requirements to receive sponsorships.
“This entire event has been made possible by the goodwill of the tech companies and industry partners surrounding us,” said Cruz. “Some of our exhibitors are coming from places like Eglin Air Force Base, Tyndall Air Force Base and Little Rock Air Force Base.”
Establishing partnerships within the local community provided solutions to unfunded STEM Expo initiatives.
“I wanted the students to feel like they are a part of a mission at the STEM Expo. I worked with a company to design a mission patch but to bring it to life I needed help,” said Cruz. “During an unrelated meeting with Tech. Sgt. Brianna Murph, a local recruiter from the 331st Recruiting Squadron, she saw the patch design on my wall and next thing I know the whole 331st RCS is trying to figure out a way to get these mission patches made. Staff Sgt. Watasha McAfee, Tech. Sgt. Janyll Jasmine Smiling and Master Sgt. Clayton Jackson were the MVPs and within a few days we were looking at a real-life proof sample of the STEM mission patch. That’s when I knew we had something special.”
“To some it may be just a patch, keepsake or memorabilia. To those who understand the bigger picture, it’s a movement,” said Staff Sgt. Watasha McAfee, 331st Recruiting Squadron, Air Force recruiter. “A movement that will inspire, empower and encourage these talented young students to carry the torch and become this great nation’s next leaders.”
The STEM zone will consist of two areas, an indoor hangar will house the 14th Flying Training Wing mission row where students will be able to interact with current Air Force student pilots, virtual reality 360 degree flights, flight simulators and a T-38 Talon. Additional exhibits such as BOEING, Xipiter Unmanned Aerial Systems, Mississippi State University Society of Women Engineers and Chandra X-Ray Observatory will be available. An outdoor exhibit area will provide students an opportunity to interact with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles from Mississippi State, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team and robot, a Quad-Legged Unmanned Ground Vehicle from the 325th Fighter Wing, Security Forces squadron, AIRBUS Helicopter, Federal Bureau of Investigation mobile forensics lab and other larger outdoor STEM exhibits.
“Train World Class Pilots,” said Cruz. “It’s a simple mission statement because the standard is no less. I brought that mindset into the planning of this event to really bring the wow factor for these students. If even just one student leaves the STEM Expo feeling inspired, then that’s mission accomplished.”