Close Encounters with the NextGen of STEM

RBy Rick Ambrose, Executive Vice President, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company

It’s time to let the next generation in on a secret.

The fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) aren’t just where the jobs are. They’re where the excitement is as well.

I’ve spent the past 30 years leading aerospace and technology teams, and I think we have the best jobs in the world. Who designs spacecrafts that speed from Earth toward distant planets? We do. Who builds satellites that save lives by tracking global weather patterns? That’s us, too.

We often talk about STEM in terms of academic studies and national competitiveness, and those policy discussions are important. But as we’ll see during the upcoming USA Science & Engineering Festival, the excitement happens when the current and future generations of STEM come face to face to explore, discover and innovate.

Lockheed Martin-NSTA Fellows at Cape Canaveral to witness a satellite launch. Lockheed Martin-NSTA Fellows at Cape Canaveral to witness a satellite launch.


These hands-on, in-person experiences can be transformative. During a recent #SpaceChat on Twitter, a Lockheed Martin employee revealed that playing with Space Legos led to his eventual role as a space exploration architect. Others have cited visiting the Kennedy Space Center, dismantling cars to see how they worked or talking with adult mentors as the genesis of their future STEM careers.

Those interpersonal, intergenerational encounters are especially valuable. At Lockheed Martin, we’ve developed partnerships with education nonprofits such as the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) that I thoroughly enjoy. Each time we launch a spacecraft, we invite teachers or students to attend the event, meet with our team and bring real-world examples of science in action back to the classroom. Our employees often visit local schools at the same time to tell students about the exciting missions we help our customers achieve.

The teachers and students appreciate the experience—and so do our employees. Once they’ve volunteered for a STEM outreach event, our employees are hooked. They love explaining what they do and sharing the students’ excitement as they learn how a robotics mission to Mars is accomplished. Lockheed Martin employees also help students explore robotics on a smaller scale through the FIRST Robotics competition we host with 4-H clubs.

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The excitement grows when we engage students directly in emerging areas of discovery. For example, we’ve partnered with our customer, NASA, to sponsor the Exploration Design Challenge. Through this competition, K-12 students have devised solutions to protect astronauts from space radiation during their travels. (Look for an announcement about the winning design soon.)

As I write this post, Lockheed Martin employees are preparing our exhibit to welcome the NextGen of STEM to the USA Science & Engineering Festival. From flight simulators to NASCAR experiments to flying robot musicians, the exhibit will offer countless opportunities to explore, discover and innovate. Visitors will even be able to test-fly our Orion spacecraft, which will someday carry humans into deep space on their way to Mars.

I hope you stop by our exhibit to experience the thrill of science and engineering in action. Our team is waiting to meet you and let you in on the excitement of STEM.

Continue the conversation with Rick on Twitter at @RickAmbroseSSC.


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