Air Force Technical Applications Center Holds Fifth Annual Women in Science and Engineering Symposium

By  //  February 5, 2020

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This year’s symposium was aimed at inspiring the next generation of STEM enthusiasts

Tech. Sgt. Steven Blake, a member of the Air Force Technical Applications Center at Patrick AFB, Fla., pours liquid nitrogen into a bowl to freeze balloons to illustrate to local school students how the difference in temperatures changes malleable objects into brittle ones during the 2020 Women in Science and Engineering Symposium Jan. 21-23, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Matthew S. Jurgens)

BREVARD COUNTY • PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, FLORIDA – Continuing a five-year tradition, the Air Force Technical Applications Center held its annual Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) Symposium Jan. 21-23, 2020 to highlight the value that gender diversity brings to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math workforce.

The first two days of the event were dedicated to guest speakers, breakout sessions and exhibitor information tables. On day three, various interactive demonstrations were on display for students across Brevard County who traveled to the convention center for Pioneer Day.

Keynote speakers included Dr. Toby Daly-Engle, professor of Ocean Engineering and Marine Sciences at the Florida Institute of Technology; Dr. Gioia Mass, NASA project scientist and plant scientist at Kennedy Space Center; Dr. Hope Hubbard, hepatologist and associate professor of medicine at the University of Texas/San Antonio; NaShara Mitchell, success advocate and motivational speaker; and Dr.Sioban Malany, associate professor at the University of Florida and founder of Micro-gRx.

This year’s symposium was aimed at inspiring the next generation of STEM enthusiasts through interactive demonstrations, inspirational speakers and networking opportunities.

The theme for the symposium was “Create What You Wish Existed” to encourage young attendees to act on their innovative thoughts.

Dr. Toby Daly-Engle (right), professor of Ocean Engineering and Marine Sciences at the Florida Institute of Technology, exchanges business cards with Trinity Ann Martinez, a 10th grader and aspiring marine biologist who attended the Women in Science and Engineering Symposium Jan. 21-23, 2020 hosted by the Air Force Technical Applications Center. Daly-Engle was one of the keynote speakers at the event aimed at inspiring the next generation of STEM enthusiasts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Matthew S. Jurgens)

Col. Chad Hartman, AFTAC’s commander, altered the STEM acronym to STEAM to include the Arts – humanities, language, music, design, graphic arts, dance, drama and new media, just to name a few.

“In this day and age, STEAM initiatives give students the opportunity to learn creatively using 21st century concepts, skills and tools,” said Hartman.

“By including the Arts, we can dispel the myth that the ‘hard science’ interdisciplines are separate, when truly they’re not. Diversity of thought is vital to strategic problem solving, and that includes the Arts.”

Originally, the symposium was scheduled for September 2018, but due to Hurricane Dorian, it was rescheduled to January 2020.

Daly-Engle’s presentation on sharks and their importance to the marine ecosystem kept the audience entertained and informed. As one of the first and few women in her field, she understands the importance of events like WiSE.

Students from Capeview Elementary School in Cape Canaveral, Fla., sift through rocks to locate actual fossils during the Women in Science and Engineering Symposium hosted by the Air Force Technical Applications Center Jan. 23, 2020. Cutline. (U.S. Air Force photo by Matthew S. Jurgens)

“If you’re the only female in a group of men, there is a lot of pressure to perform at a higher level,” she said. “Throw in the pressures of balancing life’s demands like the desire to have a family and a career at the same time, and it makes it doubly hard for women. But it shouldn’t have to be a conflict – we as women have earned the right to work, stay home or do both!”

Makaia Fernandez, a 12-year-old home schooler, attended all three days of the symposium and seemed to thoroughly enjoy herself.

“I really like science and I thought this would be a great place to learn more about it,” the 7th-grader said. “I really liked the presentation about growing plants in space – that was really interesting!”

Her brother Eli added, “The fossils of megalodon teeth were so cool! I thought I wanted to be a gaming coder when I get older, but now I think I want to be a paleontology coder!”

Since its inception in 2014, the symposium has seen more than 1,100 people attend the event. This year was no exception.

Dr. Gioia Mass, NASA project scientist and plant scientist at Kennedy Space Center, takes a question from an audience member during the Women in Science and Engineering Symposium hosted by the Air Force Technical Applications Center at Patrick AFB, Fla., Jan. 21, 2020. Mass was one of several WiSE keynote speakers who highlighted the value that gender diversity brings to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math workforce. (U.S. Air Force photo by Matthew S. Jurgens)

“The team of volunteers who put this event together worked countless hours to make it a success,” said Capt. Brittany Karsten, WiSE senior project officer. “Last September, Hurricane Dorian sidetracked our original program, but we all came together as a cohesive group to reschedule as quickly as possible and expose our local community to phenomenal guest speakers, informative exhibits and exciting STEM demonstrations. We hope everyone who attended had a great experience and left with a better understanding of the significance of diversity in STEM and how it plays an essential role in the future of our nation.”

WiSE was established in 2013 to bring attention to and highlight the value that gender diversity brings to the science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce.

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It also focuses on encouraging mentorship and networking opportunities for those interested in pursuing and excelling in STEAM careers.

After extending his thanks to all the guest speakers, exhibitors, volunteers and participants, Hartman said he plans to continue the tradition of hosting WiSE while opening the program’s aperture for years to come.

“When WiSE first began, it was centrally focused on women in the hard science workforce,” he said. “That will always be a central aspect of WiSE, but it is also time to expand and broaden the experience beyond its original focus. So be on the lookout for exciting new changes to the program when we schedule the next symposium.”

Dr. Mary D’Ambrosio, a board certified veterinarian from the Animal Specialty and Emergency Center of Brevard, conducts a networking session during the Women in Science and Engineering Symposium hosted by the Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick AFB, Fla., Jan. 21-23, 2020. D’Ambrosio was one of several distinguished speakers featured at the annual event aimed at drawing young women into STEM fields. (U.S. Air Force photo by Matthew S. Jurgens)
Students from Sabal Elementary School in Melbourne, Fla., participate in a yelling contest with Airman 1st Class Kishona Quinn, a member of the Air Force Technical Applications Center at Patrick AFB, Fla., using a meter that measures sound levels to test exposure to hazardous noises. The demonstrations were part of AFTAC’s annual Women in Science and Engineering Symposium Pioneer Day for local school students. (U.S. Air Force photo by Matthew S. Jurgens)

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