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Space Force’s STEM outreach provides critical link to force’s future

Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David D. Thompson speaks with Dr. Sherine Obare, Dean of the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University,

Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David D. Thompson speaks with Dr. Sherine Obare, Dean of the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Greensboro, N.C., during a visit, Oct. 15, 2020. Thompson spoke with faculty and students while visiting campus facilities as part of the Space Force�s push to expand partnerships with academia. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lynn Kirby)

Dr. Will Roper and Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson discuss SpaceWERX

Dr. Will Roper and Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson discuss SpaceWERX

Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. Raymond, right, and Air Force astronaut Col. Nick Hague speak with third grade students from Desoto Intermediate School in Adel, Iowa, during a virtual call at the Pentagon, Arlington, Va.

Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. Raymond, right, and Air Force astronaut Col. Nick Hague speak with third grade students from Desoto Intermediate School in Adel, Iowa, during a virtual call at the Pentagon, Arlington, Va., Dec. 16, 2020. The call was part of "DeSTEMber" events, an initiative to engage children in science, technology, engineering and math. (U.S. Air Force photo by Eric Dietrich)

ARLINGTON, Va. (AFNS) --

As a tech-heavy, digital service, the U.S. Space Force relies on Guardians with academic backgrounds in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics to build and fortify its foundation. 

 

That reality is why the Space Force focused on STEM outreach throughout the month of December as part of the activities leading up to its first birthday, Dec. 20. The campaign was part of an enterprise-wide effort to bring STEM and Space into elementary school classrooms; stand up an organization to streamline innovation and commercial partnerships; and launch a University partnership program to tap into research and innovation at the collegiate level.. 

 

“As a small service we have an imperative to innovate, to infuse technology throughout our mission areas and processes, and to enhance the digital literacy of Guardians at every level throughout our workforce,” said Maj. Gen. Kimberly Crider, Space Force chief technology and innovation officer. “By seeking partnerships with industry and academia, and participating in STEM-focused outreach, we can build connections that will pay dividends not just to our future force, but to the nation as a whole.”

 

DeSTEMber Outreach Campaign 

 

Targeted for students in grades 3-6, a virtual classroom experience dubbed “DeSTEMber” was originally conceived as a localized outreach program, but quickly blossomed into a nationwide campaign. 

 

“This was an incredible way to celebrate the Space Force’s first birthday … giving back through an effort to develop our future,” said Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond. “Guardians across the nation not only taught thousands of students how important space is to their daily lives, but hopefully sparked an interest in STEM-related fields that will endure as these children continue to grow and learn. Encouraging STEM-focused education at a young age is crucial to our future national security and economic prosperity.”

 

“The entire DeSTEMber campaign was conceived by the Space Force birthday planning team as a reflection of the CSO’s vision for our new service,” said Lt. Col. Raj Agrawal, chief, Space Control Division, Department of the Air Force, and Space Force first birthday planning lead. “It was designed to give back to our communities while making an investment in the future of our service and the nation.”

 

“The fact that it grew from a local outreach initiative to a nationwide campaign in a matter of weeks is testament to the dedication of hundreds of Guardians who worked countless hours in addition to their normal duties to make this a success,” Agrawal added. 

 

DeSTEMber engagements typically consisted of a 30-45-minute virtual interaction between Space Force Guardian and an elementary school classroom. Guardians opened the sessions with an introductory video and then interacted with students, answering questions about space and their unique experiences in space career fields.

 

“We tailored the introduction video, ‘Space Time with Rocket,’ to be fun and engaging for younger students, to spark their interest before the question and answer session with the presenter,” said Chaplain Lt. Col. William Spencer, Space Force deputy chaplain and DeSTEMber project co-lead. 

 

Space Force military and civilian volunteers from the Colorado Springs, Colo., community served as actors in the introductory video. “We had a fantastic group of men and women who donated their time and, with tremendous support from our Public Affairs teammates at Space Operations Command and U.S. Space Command, created this amazing product that allowed the campaign to truly reach the next level and have a profound impact,” Agrawal said.

 

 “The DeSTEMber Initiative made the U.S. Space Force tangible for over 17,000 students and their families across all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.,” and opened the eyes of students and teachers alike to how space is woven into the fabric of their daily lives, he added. 

 

In addition to the introductory video and virtual question and answer sessions with the Guardians who volunteered, science experiments provided by Civil Air Patrol allowed teachers to continue the STEM education beyond the initial lesson.

 

U.S. Space Force members from across the country—including the CSO and Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David D. Thompson—jumped at the opportunity to participate in the outreach campaign. 

 

“With close to 200 volunteers, Maj. Dane Skousen, my counterpart on the DeSTEMber planning team, and Ms. Pam Friend, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs community outreach division, were critical in bringing schools and volunteers together,” Spencer said. “This initiative not only incentivized STEM education, but further educated the American public on the critical role the Space Force plays in national security, and garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews.”

 

SpaceWERX

 

The newest effort the Air and Space Forces have launched is SpaceWERX, which stood up on Dec. 7.  Headquartered at Los Angeles Air Force Base, this initiative exists to streamline innovation and commercial partnerships. 

 

“The global space economy continues to grow at rapid rates, and SpaceWERX is going to help us continue our momentum,” said Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, Space and Missile Systems Center commander and program executive officer for space in a Dec. 8 press release. “The goal is to expand the space industrial base by guiding additional partners, leveraging commercial investment, and pursuing new space technologies that could be game changers for our space warfighters.” 

 

This organization will closely align its efforts with space operators and acquisition professionals within the Space and Missile Systems Center co-located at the base. 

 

“SpaceWERX will help ensure that the Space Force can tap into cutting-edge space technologies and rapidly deliver it to the field,” Thompson continued in the release.

 

University Partnership Program 

    

Announced at the AFWERX Accelerate Event in early December, the University Partnership Program is slated to kick off Spring 2021 with 10-12 universities participating. 

 

“This past year we had two cohorts participate in the Hyperspace Challenge; John Hopkins University and New Mexico State University,” said Col. Rich Williams, AFWERX/CTIO integration lead. “As interest amongst academic intuitions has expanded, we have tailored the Hyperspace Challenge to work with academic institutions.”

 

Originally launched in 2018 targeting startups and industry partners, the Hyperspace Challenge was reimagined to work within the academic setting. 

 

“The challenge is a business accelerator that forges valuable relationships between the government and startups to accelerate innovation for the space domain,” Williams said. “There is a significant amount of untapped potential, in terms of research, innovation and people at the collegiate level that directly transcribes to space operations.

 

“Our goal is to be a catalyst for them, to elevate their ideas to the next level. Whether we work directly with them now or later down the road, we want them to know that the Space Force is open for collaboration” he added.  

 

For more information on the Hyperspace Challenge and the University Partnership Program visit hyperspacechallenge.com.

 

 

(Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs contributed to this report)