Dr. Jeffrey Calcaterra (right), Structural Failure Analysis team lead for Air Force Research Laboratory Materials Integrity Branch, explains nondestructive inspection processes to (from left) Tristan Gilreath and Alexa Gebhardt, area high school students who were attending a job Shadow Day at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Oct. 27. The bi-annual event, put on by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Educational Outreach Office, is designed for students to experience on the job real-life experiences and allow them to explore potential career field opportunities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jim Varhegyi)

Wright-Patt job shadow program inspires next generation of innovators

Local junior and senior high school students amassed on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Oct. 27 to get a firsthand look at their possible future.

Since 1999, Wright-Patterson has organized Job Shadow Days, pairing students with mentors from the base.


“The bi-annual event provides area juniors and seniors with an opportunity to experience on-the-job, real-life career prospects,” said Kim Stultz, Job Shadow Day program coordinator. “This event drew 165 students from 38 high schools. We were able to pair them up with 43 mentors and 32 co-mentors from 39 organizations throughout the base, allowing us to open up a myriad of career fields for students to explore.”

The day started at 8:30 a.m. at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force where students were checked in and paired with their mentors. The groups then ventured out across the base to learn about the variety of work being done at Wright-Patt.

“I love science, technology, engineering and math outreach and want to show students that STEM isn’t scary but is in fact fun and exciting, and want to encourage them to be a part of it,” said Segrid Harris, Air Force Research Laboratory’s Material Integrity Branch chief. “Our teams are the Air Force’s CSI for materials. If an Air Force member breaks something, or a component fails prematurely, it’s our job to figure out first why it happened, and then help determine how to keep it from happening again.”

Harris knows firsthand the value of programs such as Job Shadow Day and credits such programs for her career success. She came to the Air Force straight out of high school via the Junior Fellowship Program, first working at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, before earning a degree in electrical engineering from Tuskegee University. She went on to earn a Master in Business Administration, and attended the Army War College earning a master’s in strategic studies.

Harris hosted six students at her branch and turned them over to her three teams to get a hands-on look at what it takes to do their jobs.

“You’re not here for a tour; you’re here to job shadow,” announced Dr. Jeffrey Calcaterra, AFRL’s Structural Failure Analysis Team lead, as he and his team mentored their charges through nondestructive inspection procedures, and taught them how to determine the breaking point of a variety of materials.

“Creativity is an important part of our job,” said Calcaterra. “What we do here can affect lives out in the field.”

Besides structural failure analysis, students visiting Harris’ branch also learned about electrical failure analysis, and adhesives and composite analysis.

“Our goal was to provide the students a glimpse into what being an engineer really looks like,” said Capt. Justin Heppe, deputy chief of the Material Integrity Branch. “I am sure we can all remember high school and trying to decide what we want to do for the rest of our lives. It’s a tough decision to make and many times the only careers you are exposed to are those of your

family members.

“What if you dream of something different? What we wanted them to take away was that the work engineers do is critical. The work we do here saves lives. People put a trust in engineers that the aircraft, buildings and equipment they use will work,” said Heppe. “I hope they also took

away that an engineering career is more approachable than they might have thought.”

Several parents voiced praise for the program.

“Please know that we were very impressed with the Job Shadow Days,” wrote a parent of a past participant in a note to program organizers. “They were very well orchestrated and the content was excellent. They were especially helpful to my son to better understand job opportunities. He is now a freshman at Iowa State University in the aerospace engineering program, and he’s in Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps. Thank you for contributing to his excitement to pursue both ROTC and aerospace engineering.”

“Thank you so much for allowing my son to participate in today’s event,” wrote another parent. “During the 20-minute drive home, he gave me details, details and even more details of his day. Whenever a 16-year-old boy will talk to you that much, and it is not about sports or girls it is a blessing.”

Students also had good things to say about their day of job shadowing.

“This experience is making me think about joining the Air Force,” said Tess McClure, a junior at Greenville Senior High School. “Today opened my eyes to all the stuff that the Air Force offers. I thought the Air Force was just about flying.”

McClure and fellow Greenville classmate Mariah Nicholas are pursuing medical careers and spent their day learning about Wright-Patterson Medical Center’s radiology department.

“The agenda was very interesting. I will definitely recommend the Job Shadow Day program to other students,” said McClure.

“Today was actually a big help with a capstone project I’m completing for graduation,” said Shawnda McGary, a senior at Dayton’s Ponitz Career Technology Center who wants to pursue a career in nursing “My program advisor recommended that I attend the Job Shadow Day. I learned a lot about radiology in the process. I would definitely recommend other students participate in the program.”

Stultz said the Job Shadow Program continues to grow each year and that they are always looking for more mentors who want to help encourage future Air Force innovators.

Besides Job Shadow Day, the Educational Outreach Office provides a myriad of ways to get involved as mentors. Check out their programs at the following links: http://wpafbstem.com and www.facebook.com/wrightpatteo.

Thank you for reading the Dayton Daily News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.

Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Dayton Daily News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.