AFIT summit opens doors to historically Black colleges

Reginald Turner, associate dean at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT), remembers how doors were opened for him early in his education and career. Now he wants to pay it forward.

Turner, associate dean of the School of Systems and Logistics at AFIT, and his allies have organized that school’s new outreach to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU).

Partnering with Central State University, AFIT will host the inaugural Air Force Historically Black Colleges & Universities/Minority Institutions Digital Literacy Summit on June 21 and 22. The event will be at Central State’s Wilberforce campus.

The gathering will focus on agreements and research efforts in digital engineering, digital acquisitions, big data research and other Air Force challenges in the digital realm.

As Turner explained in a recent interview, the event will be about helping “the world’s greatest Air Force” defend the nation with those tools.

But it will also be a new way to establish ties to students at HBCUs and companies helmed by African-American entrepreneurs and researchers.

“It’s all about providing opportunities, primarily for HBCUs, for African-American researchers, faculty, students, undergraduate and graduate students,” he said. “Trying to expose them to, introduce them to, operations within the Department of Defense in general and the Department of the Air Force in particular.”

Turner said this will be the first time AFIT has reached out with this kind of “particular intent” to HBCUs. But the idea has been with him for a while.

“I said ‘All right: If no one else is going to do it, I’m going to do it,’” he recalled.

Senior leaders and colleagues were soon on board. Confirmed featured speakers include Maj. Gen. Heather Pringle, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, who was an early supporter.

“She was the first person I had in mind when I said I wanted to do this,” Turner said.

Also featured will be retired Gen. Lester Lyles, former commander of Air Force Materiel Command; Maj Gen (retired) Mark Brown, chief executive of the Student Freedom Initiative; and Harry Williams, CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, among others.

Turner studied electrical engineering and participated in Air Force ROTC at Tuskegee University in Alabama, but he earned his doctorate at AFIT. He served in the Air Force for 22 years, and his first assignment was at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (where AFIT is also located).

Pringle, whom Turner calls the “the face” of Air Force science and technology, has agreed to brief or explain the summit at a group of Air Force generals with whom she meets regularly — a promising sign of continuing service-wide support for the event, Turner believes.

“I knew once she came on board, several other people would also,” Turner said.

He believes there has not been a concerted effort to build these partnerships. “I’m not saying it’s anybody’s fault. It’s just the way it is.”

He intends to rectify that, and he’s working to create a task force to discuss strategies to continue this work beyond what he hopes will be an annual summit, one that perhaps might welcome HBCU students every year as they begin Air Force internships at Wright-Patterson.

Turner agreed that interest in Air Force and military careers needs to be nurtured early on. He said he would “absolutely” tell young Black students to consider a career in STEM subjects.

“We need people who are imaginative, creative, bold, who have the resources as well as the space to fail, to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes — to continue to push the envelope,” Turner said.

For more information or to register for the summit, visit:

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