Contributed by Kinya R. Minami, K-12 STEM Outreach COI
If you’ve ever been a supporter of STEM programs within your local SAME Post, have you ever wondered what becomes of the students that utilize those programs? Well, look no further than the example of 2nd Lt. Leah Wiegers of the U.S. Air Force.
Lt. Wiegers grew up around Ft. Leavenworth in Kansas and currently serves as an Asset Management Plan (AMP) Manager of the 56th Civil Engineering Squadron over at Luke AFB in Arizona. Her role as AMP manager includes facilitating maintenance and repair projects. Her parents wanted her to become engaged in academics early in life, and so when her teachers informed her about the possibilities of STEM programs, her parents encouraged her to explore the idea of becoming an engineer. As a high school student, Lt. Wiegers participated in both the Future City Competition, which provides a forum for students to use Engineering Designing Process (EDP) and project management skills to explain their solutions to a citywide sustainability issue, and the SAME U.S. Air Force Academy STEM and Engineering Camp at Colorado Springs, Colo. Both programs are supported by SAME. Inspired by these experiences, Lt. Wiegers went on to graduate from the Air Force Academy in 2022.
Lt. Wiegers’ life came full circle when she became a student mentor last January during the Future City Competition in Phoenix. She believes that attending the event in the U.S. Air Force uniform helped the students understand the links between personal growth and development and all the opportunities the STEM programs have to offer. “The students asked me to visit and make comments about their presentations,” she said. “They liked asking questions, and they shared with me ways in which they worked together as a team. The students were very impressive in that they were able to understand one another’s strengths and weaknesses and how to work together in filling in any gaps. The ability to work effectively with one another is essential in the field of engineering. I was pleased that the students quickly grasped that concept and were successful.”
In the future, Lt. Wiegers is considering applying to the Airfield Pavement Evaluation Team, a geotechnical graduate school program through the Air Force, with the hope that she can use an experience like that to continue mentoring young people. “I would like to continue my involvement in Future City,” she said. “Another goal is to be a cadre for a future STEM camp if my career allows. I’m also currently involved with a local Girl Scout Troop.”
Another additional mentoring idea she suggests is the creation of an online Rube Goldberg competition, where students can develop YouTube-type videos of their presentations. To advance the idea of sustainability, she would encourage competing teams to incorporate the use of recycled materials.
When asked what she appreciates about the SAME-supported STEM programs, Lt. Wiegers highlighted the professional relationships she has made along the way. “I still keep in contact with students who I attended STEM camp at the Air Force Academy with. Many have gone on to become engineers.”
To continue building upon the gains SAME has made in the lives of students through STEM programs, Lt. Wiegers recommends staying in touch with former campers and finding ways for them to become mentors. Fostering a group of mentors from diverse professional backgrounds can help students excel wherever they decide to go, whether it is into the military or the civilian sector.
If you’d like to get involved, applications are currently open for mentors for the 2023 Engineering and Construction Camp. Visit the Camps Mentors and Staff page to read more about each camp, what being a mentor is like, and to submit your application. Applications are open until May 15, 2023.
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