High hopes for AFRL community college outreach program

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- The Air Force Research Laboratory is strengthening its efforts to recruit a diverse crop of future scientists and engineers through its Community College Internship Pilot Program.
The Community College Internship Pilot Program, or CCIPP, which is wrapping up its first year, provides community college students the opportunity to work at AFRL as they complete their associate degree studies.  Students receive paid hands-on experience of the unique work performed at AFRL while receiving tuition payment to complete their coursework.

A "Lunch & Learn" event was recently held for CCIPP students where AFRL Executive Director, Mr. Ricky Peters, received feedback from students regarding their experiences with the program so far.  Attendees dined while receiving career advice from local business owner, Dr. Karen Townsend of KTownsend Consulting, and from Peters himself.

"CCIPP students have no commitment during their first year in the program," said Dr. Mark Derriso, CCIPP program manager.  "AFRL headquarters provides participating Directorates with funds for compensation and tuition for students during the first year.  After this initial year, a sponsoring AFRL Technology Directorate takes over financial responsibility for the student and a year for year commitment requirement begins."

"For example, if AFRL pays for two years of a student's college, the intent is that the student would work for AFRL for two years and hopefully many more. Our goal is to recruit permanent employees for AFRL."

To date 16 students have been involved with the CCIPP during its first year, working within numerous technology focus areas at AFRL's Sensors, Materials & Manufacturing, and Human Effectiveness Directorates.  Currently the program is primarily focused on recruiting students from Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio.  However, AFRL is evaluating expanding the program to a handful of other community colleges within the next few years.

The program was conceived by Peters who is a former community college student, graduating from Sinclair Community College in 1981.  He said he believes the CCIPP is a great opportunity for local outreach and for the recruitment of underrepresented populations for AFRL's future workforce.

Brandon Nolan is a current student participant of the program, working in the Warfighter Readiness Research division of AFRL's Human Effectiveness Directorate. He feels that being involved in the CCIPP was a great decision for his career.

"The program has been an overwhelmingly positive experience and has given me invaluable experience and knowledge," Nolan said.  "It has helped me grow in my field of study, both as a student and as a professional in a work environment."

As the CCIPP moves forward, program officials are implementing some changes from lessons learned during its first year, including easing some minor tuition roadblocks.  Most notably, the program will implement more flexible pathways that will allow student participants to switch technology focus areas during the program, depending on those they feel are a better fit or those they find more interesting.

"This is just one of our many AFRL scholarship and internship opportunities," said Peters. "We're probably going to make some tweaks to the current pilot program, continue to measure its effectiveness, and explore expanding it to other community colleges, located near every laboratory operating location."