Travis hosts 8th-graders to promote STEM careers

February 28 2019

Daily Republic By Ian Thompson 2/28/19

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE — How best do you explain to middle school students the importance of pursuing science, technology, engineering and math skills?

For Maj. Andrew Cobb, it was telling how 3-D printing could make the job of the 9th Maintenance Squadron keeping aircraft at Beale Air Force Base mission-ready easier.

For environmental scientist Marcus Eriksen of the 5 Gyres Institute, it is “taking the science and finding a solution” to end the growing tide of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. 

Local eighth-graders listen to presentations at the X-STEM event at Travis Air Force Base, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic)

Cobb and Eriksen were two of the speakers who also included Center for Severe Weather Research meteorologist Karen Kosiba and NASA Jet Propulsion Systems Engineer Bobak Ferdowsi, who was involved with the Curiosity Mars rover.

The speakers engaged more than 700 eighth-grade students from across Northern California who gathered Wednesday at Travis Air Force Base to take part in an eXtreme Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) event.

Travis’ goal in hosting the event was to get the students interested in futures in technology and science as well as giving them an opportunity to learn more about the Air Force, according to organizer Capt. Lyndsey Horn.

Travis Air Force Base co-sponsored what it hopes will be an annual event with the USA Science & Engineering Festival.

The USA Science & Engineering Festival was founded by biotech entrepreneur Larry Bock after a trip to Europe, where he became fascinated by international science festivals.

Bock returned to start up the San Diego Science Festival in 2009 with the help of businesses such as Lockheed Martin, and started the first USA Science & Engineering Festival in 2010 in Washington, D.C.

“Last year, we decided to take eXtreme on the road and move it around the country,” said USA Science & Engineering Festival Executive Director Marc Schulman.

This is the latest such event put on by the USA Science & Engineering Festival. The festival since 2014 has held five annual X-STEM events in Washington, D.C., attracting approximately 4,000 attendees each year.

Schulman called Travis Air Force Base a near-perfect fit with all the support the base gave and its proximity to cutting-edge technology regions such as Silicon Valley.

“This is huge,” Schulman said of targeting eighth-grade students with these events. “If kids are not interested by middle school, they will likely not be interested by high school. Middle school is the sweet spot.”

Schulman said he would love to return to Travis Air Force Base with an even better event, bringing in regional players such as Genentech to host hands-on displays.

The morning was taken up by the four speakers while the afternoon was devoted to interactive tours of Travis’ C-17 Globemaster III, the C-5 Galaxy and the KC-10 Extender as well as demonstrations of contingency response satellite communications and virtual reality goggles.

“Travis is the perfect venue to host an event that promotes innovation and creativity,” said Col. Jeffrey Nelson, 60th Air Mobility Wing commander. “Not only is STEM paramount in shaping the Air Force’s vision and strategy for the future, but it is also pivotal in maintaining strong community partnerships.”

Solano County Superintendent of Schools Lisette Estrella-Henderson sat with the students and called the event “amazing.”

“This brings STEM to life with hands-on activities and speakers who are able to connect with the young people,” Estrella-Henderson said.

Golden West Middle School eighth-grader Eliana Martinez was one of those impressed, particularly with Ferdowsi and Eriksen.

“It was really inspiring,” Martinez said,of Eriksen’s viewpoint of dealing with plastic pollution that “this is a problem and I am going to do something about it.”