Engaging Top STEM Performers at a Younger Age
A Young AFCEAN proposes a JROTC blue ribbon.
Recently, I had the privilege of attending a ceremony and presenting an award to a local high school Junior Reserve Office Training Corps (JROTC) cadet on behalf of another organization for this cadet’s superior performance and leadership. Looking around the stage, I noticed representatives from multiple organizations all eager to recognize the efforts of these amazing young leaders with their respective groups’ awards. The organizations included the Daughters of the American Revolution Award; American Legion General Military Excellence Award; Veterans of Foreign Wars Award; Air Force Association Award; Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction Award; Military Officers Association of America Award and the Air Force Sergeants Association Award.
Furthermore, I noticed the absence of an AFCEA presence, which until now has been a tremendous lost opportunity to reach and influence the generation of young people that will be entering our workforce and military over the next one to seven years, depending on their post-high school choices.
While I do not possess deep knowledge of these other organizations, I am slightly biased towards AFCEA and know full well the incalculable weight we exert over the cyber, information technology and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance communities. There is no reason we cannot be included in this list and expand our contributions to the next generation of tech professionals.
To seize this opportunity, I am proposing that AFCEA International form a committee to outline achievable criteria for an AFCEA ribbon and present it to the national leadership of each branch’s JROTC program for inclusion into their list of awards permitted for wear on cadets’ uniforms. A process must also be established for JROTC detachment leaders to nominate their cadets for our ribbon. Furthermore, annual funding would have to be set aside at a national level to produce and procure these awards and ship them to the detachments or local chapters for periodic presentation.
Sample award criteria might include: “Presented to two ASIII or ASIV cadets—one female and one male—in top 25 percent of class, currently enrolled in STEM-focused classes and demonstrates significant contributions to their local community and STEM education.”
The benefits of this AFCEA JROTC ribbon program would be limitless, but here are just a few:
- Builds instant, nationwide awareness of AFCEA at a high school level
- Encourages STEM-related pursuits amongst cadets seeking to earn the ribbon
- Reinforces AFCEA’s image of supporting all branches of the armed forces
- Primes JROTC cadets to seek out future involvement in a local chapter and Young AFCEA
- Initiates collaboration opportunities between high schools, JROTC detachments and local AFCEA chapters
- Permits earlier identification of high-performing individuals for college and career guidance from AFCEA chapter mentors
Some chapters may perhaps take this idea a step further and pair a small scholarship or a free one-year student membership with those ribbons received in their local area.
Identifying potential and rewarding effort in young people has always been something near to my heart since I joined Civil Air Patrol when I was 15 years old. Many great people guided me on my journey through life—and still do—and I would be nowhere without their selfless sacrifice of their precious time and attention. My hope is that this award spurs the next generation to aim for the top!
Shawn Cressman is a systems engineer for Applied Insight LLC and supports the 68th Network Warfare Squadron’s defensive cyber platforms. He is currently a major in the Civil Air Patrol’s Lackland Cadet Squadron TX-007. He also teaches information technology fundamentals adult evening classes for San Antonio Independent School District.