WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – The Wright Scholar Program at Wright Patterson Air Force Base is one of the most unique opportunities for high schoolers to explore and learn more about engineering, pre-medical sciences and other STEM disciplines. Just to put in perspective how significant this program is, think about what it takes to become a researcher working at Wright-Patt. It takes years of education – undergraduate, graduate and often doctorate-level education.
The Wright Scholar program allows top high school students to dive right into the research before starting their college education. Students selected for this program are each assigned a mentor, an established Air Force Research Laboratory scientist/engineer, who then guides the student through their research project.
The Wright Scholar program stands out from other internships and summer programs because it involves research for the Air Force. This means that instead of being limited to one field such as biology, scholars have access to a vast range of research fields. There aren’t many places where researchers are studying how to use graphene to detect biomarkers and designing next-generation fighter jets just down the street from one another.
Student participants range from those who are familiar with research to those who have never stepped foot inside a lab, but this diversity of participants only adds to the distinction of the Wright Scholar program.
In addition to their project work, Wright Scholars have the opportunity to attend lectures, workshops, and tours at places like the University of Dayton, The Ohio State University and Wright State University to further develop their understanding of STEM fields and have the chance to step outside of their main concentrations.
The University of Dayton’s School of Engineering offers Wright Scholars a unique series of classes to broaden their knowledge of various STEM disciplines. Each class includes a professor talking to the students about his or her field of study -- mechanical, electrical, industrial and civil engineering, to name a few -- and some classes also include a workshop to allow the students to get a hands-on feel of that subject. The most exciting classes were ones in which the students were tasked with building a machine, e.g., a tin-can stove, a circuit heartbeat-reader or a balsa wood bridge.
The most popular individual events Wright Scholars participated in during the course of the summer included the interactive workshop at The Ohio State University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a tour of the U.S. Air Force Center for Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills at University Hospital Cincinnati.
At OSU, the Wright Scholars were given the chance to build rudimentary speaker circuits and induction circuits. It was captivating to see students with different levels of familiarity regarding electrical engineering, work side-by-side to participate in this workshop, while laughing, learning and helping one another.
Very different from the electrical engineering workshop, the C-STARS tour at University Hospital Cincinnati was a highly-anticipated event for Wright Scholars interested in biomedical and pre-medical careers, as well as a riveting experience for their peers interested in other STEM disciplines. This tour gave Wright Scholars a chance to see how medical research and military protocol are interwoven in the real world in the form of a unique training unit that can be utilized by a range of medical professions to enhance their abilities to treat patients in combat zones and Air Force medical facilities.
Wright Scholars were also provided an opportunity to converse with military and civilian trauma surgeons during lunch, giving them a chance to talk face-to-face with healthcare professionals.
The C-STARS tour and OSU workshop were just two of the many distinct events Wright Scholars could participate in, and their stark differences only exemplify the diverse number of activities offered for a diverse group of young students.
These programs and events gave students a chance to travel to different facilities throughout the southwestern Ohio area, exposing them to new and emerging fields of scientific research and giving them a chance to connect with their fellow Wright Scholars.
What is the Wright Scholar Research Assistant Program really all about? It involves working in AFRL on an individual research project under the guidance of a specialized mentor. Wright Scholars are rarely treated as just students, but rather as contributing researchers with their own responsibilities and obligations.
Scholars are introduced to a unique topic of interest at the beginning of the summer and, for nine weeks, learn about and implement various research procedures, gather data, make observations and become proficient in their areas of study.
Hands-on participation and extensive mentorship allow scholars to not only learn about new areas of study, but also to make an impact by providing a helpful hand in legitimate research.
When asked what a professional working experience was like, Bellbrook High School student Rachel Kahler responded, “Overall, the experience was very humbling to be working directly with people who had masters and doctorates, and I learned to interact with those professionals, which I’m sure will benefit me later on in life.”
Working with professionals through the course of the summer also gives Wright Scholars a unique networking experience few other programs offer. Students have the chance to communicate with specialists in their fields of interests, professionals who represent their dream jobs and program leaders that could open doors of opportunity. Being in close-contact with these individuals provides Wright Scholars with convenient access to some of the smartest minds in their fields, and that is truly invaluable.
The peer environment one experiences within the Wright Scholar program is also very special. What do you think happens when you force 43 talented 17 and 18-year-olds to work in close quarters for nine weeks? They become friends! As passionate learners keen on making the most out of their Wright Scholar experiences, many of the participants in this program have been quick to form lasting friendships with their peers.
Not only do most of these scholars connect on an emotional level, but also on an intellectual level; many share common aspirations and goals for the future. With such a large group of interns, it is rare to find such compatible peers in such a short amount of time, and it only serves to enhance the Wright Scholar experience.
A few words of advice for anyone looking to apply for the Wright Scholar program: Go for it! It is such an incredible program that nearly every student ends up falling in love with the work and returns for a second year of research. No doubt, it is not easy to be accepted into the Wright Scholar program, but those interested shouldn’t disregard applying solely because of the statistical chances of getting in; the reward is well-worth the risk. You don’t need to be the valedictorian of your school, have a perfect GPA, or perfect ACT/SAT scores.
The crucial element for each applicant is that they must demonstrate a true passion for science and engineering career fields, as well as possess leadership characteristics and strong work ethic. The essay portion of the application is where one can best illustrate this passion. We can say with confidence that the Wright Scholar program will be one of the best experiences you will ever have, so don’t be intimidated by the competition; just provide the best application and essay possible.
Wright Scholar Testimonials
What were your favorite parts about getting to participate in this program?
“I enjoyed getting some good work experience. Being able to work on base has been a dream job of mine, and I was thrilled to be able to try out my dream job as a high schooler! I enjoyed learning new things every day and getting to work with some amazingly smart people! Every day you will be learning something new and challenged in ways you have never been challenged before. Come with a humble attitude and a willingness to learn, and you will have an amazing summer.”
-Catherine Mohs (Aerospace Systems Directorate)
"Really, just being involved and participating in actual research is great. I even get to put my name on a paper. If that isn’t an awesome benefit for someone fresh out of high school, I don’t know what is. I love being able to apply some of the physics I learned in school to a real-life job situation."
-Harrison Merling (Sensors Directorate)
What are your recommendations for future Wright Scholars or anyone looking to apply to this program?
“If you want to work in a research laboratory as a prospective engineer, it is a great resume builder and a great first job. The program also offers students a view into what it would be like to work at WPAFB.”
-Jonathan Augustus Albrecht (Materials Directorate)
“The most important thing about the application is to put down as much information and detail about yourself as possible. An application is not the place to be humble. If you want to get in, you have to look good on paper. This program is amazing and so much fun, but if you expect it to be easy, then you should apply for something else. The purpose is to challenge you and give you real experience in a lab. If you apply and get into the program, it will be an amazing summer filled with learning and so much fun.”
- Alison Bachowski (711th Human Performance Wing)