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News > Encouragement leads student to rewarding STEM career
Ms. Seana McNeal (AFRL Image)
Ms. Seana McNeal, of AFRL’s Propulsion Directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, benefitted from early encouragement from a teacher to pursue a career in engineering. (AFRL Image)
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Encouragement leads student to rewarding STEM career

Posted 3/29/2012   Updated 3/30/2012 Email story   Print story


by Laura Dempsey
AFRL Headquarters

3/29/2012 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, OhioSeana McNeal didn't even know what engineers did until Mrs. Porter, a forward- thinking 7th grade science teacher, introduced her to Wright State University's STEM-related program, Wright STEPP, which encourages young students to explore STEM fields.

Mrs. Porter's guidance set Ms. McNeal, 27, on the path to an ad- vanced degree in electrical engineering, and to the Air Force Research Laboratory's Propulsion Directorate, where she works on aircraft's electrical power systems.

"I was interested in computers when I was in elementary school," said Ms. McNeal. "Mrs. Porter talked to me about engineering and the Wright STEPP program. I was accepted when I was in middle school."

Wright State's STEPP - Science, Technology, and Engineering Preparatory Program
- introduces students to different types of engineering over four summers. The program was created to encourage
students from public schools in Dayton and Springfield, Ohio, to go into STEM fields. In Ms. McNeal's case, it
changed her life.

"I didn't know what an engineer was until I went to Wright STEPP," she said. "At the grade school level I think stu- dents need to be aware of the possibilities."

Ms. McNeal's entry into STEPP introduced her to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and AFRL, which worked with the program to ensure its success. The work she saw at AFRL greatly influenced her decision to become an engi- neer. It also allowed her to settle on electrical engineering as the specialty she wanted to study.

At AFRL, she said, "STEM is a part of everything we do. People in STEM-related fields are hired to advance Air Force capabilities and solve problems. This knowledge is necessary whether that employee is performing the re- search themselves in a lab or managing a contract for research another company is performing."

During Ms. McNeal's five years with AFRL, she has been involved with DC-DC converter research, and has co-authored several papers about AFRL efforts in that realm. Her lab's work with interleaved con- verters is being considered for current and future aircraft. Additionally, she is part of a team that tests devices obtained through contracts or by others in her branch, with the goal of improving the devices by noting posi- tive and negative characteristics. All her work is part of the mission to develop useful, commercially available de- vices.

STEPP exposed many of Ms. McNeal's classmates to career options they may not have considered, she said. "There weren't very many thinking about this type of thing, but because of that program, quite a few of my peers have since gone into engineering."

Still, she warns, it's not easy, and she believes the importance of STEM competencies is worth the investment of
time and effort.

"I believe that more needs to be done to prepare students to succeed while studying STEM," she said. "This should include teaching true study skills and allowing teachers to teach math and science in a way that students can apply it and not just follow a formula to get the expected answer. I know many students who decided to major in engineering and later changed majors because they were not able to keep up.

"We need better students who will become even better professionals," she added. "The road to a STEM career is a challenging one and it's not for everyone, but if you are interested and dedicated it's worth the work you will put into it."

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