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Technical communication skills emphasized in AFRL internships

Kathleen Clark and Leland Merling , both former interns in the Wright Scholars program, practice their technical communication skills by presenting their project to local school administrators. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Kathleen Clark and Leland Merling, both former interns in the Wright Scholars program, practice their technical communication skills by presenting their project to local school administrators. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Carly Rolfes, a former GRILL intern, discusses her project with Dr. Winston Bennett and then-1st Lt. Ben Davis. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Carly Rolfes, a former GRILL intern, discusses her project with Dr. Winston Bennett and then-1st Lt. Ben Davis. (U.S. Air Force photo)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics interns in the Gaming Research Integration for Learning Laboratory here receive more than hands-on learning in the STEM fields; they also have opportunities to practice and develop their technical communication skills. 

"The ability to communicate orally and in written form is important for scientists and engineers," said Dr. Winston "Wink" Bennett Jr., the Warfighter Readiness Research technical advisor. "Not only do we have to be able to explain our ideas and research findings to a broad community of colleagues and peers, but we also have to be able to explain what we do to people who don't fully understand the complexities of the work."

According to the Society for Technical Communication, technical communication involves a broad understanding of not just the terms and language within each field, but also the ability to communicate that understanding to others by simplifying complex information through various channels such as oral presentations, print, websites, social media, etc. This also includes writing instructions.

Bennett spoke about the importance of providing tours, presentations or overviews for visiting senior leaders. He went on to explain that after scientists and engineers prepare and then do the presentations, they discover and relay back to leadership that this type of experience helps them become better researchers and leaders.

Because of the heightened awareness of improved communication skills across all disciplines, the GRILL personnel began teaming with Jade McDaniel, a technical writing teacher at the Dayton Regional STEM School.

"The GRILL's program provides students with invaluable experience and prepares them for their future careers, offering a unique opportunity to learn the importance of integrating technical writing with STEM fields and professions," said McDaniel.

McDaniel already had experience collaborating with other DRSS teachers and integrating technical writing experiences with various project-based learning opportunities, so she was able to leverage those experiences as she conducted a technical writing workshop for Wright Scholars interns last summer.

The Wright Scholar Program and Technical Communication

The Wright Scholar program, a competitive internship program at the Air Force Research Laboratory, offers high school juniors and seniors a nine-week immersive summer internship in one of many labs at AFRL. The GRILL, situated within AFRL's Human Effectiveness Directorate, is just one of the labs that hosts Wright Scholar interns. 

Over the course of a summer at the GRILL, Wright Scholars gain opportunities for both to develop skills in both technical writing and oral presentation.

Bennett explained that public speaking is often difficult for the interns, but that practicing presentation skills early is best.

As they near the end of their high school careers, the Wright Scholars are able to use their newly developed communication skills as they tackle college and scholarship applications. These skills can also be added to resumes for additional internship applications or for job applications.     

The 2016 Wright Scholar Research Assistant Program is taking applications now through Jan. 8.  You can find more information about the program by clicking here.

For more information about opportunities at the GRILL, please visit their web site.   

NOTE: Gina Marie Giardina is a Public Affairs Specialist with the 88th Air Base Wing. Jennifer Winner is a research psychologist with the AFRL Warfighter Readiness Research Division.