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AFTAC hosts 5th annual WiSE Symposium

By Susan A. Romano, AFTAC Public Affairs 

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. –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.

Students at WiSE Symposium

Women in Science and Engineering Symposium 2020

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.

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.

“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.

“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. 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.”

This article was originally published here.