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AF top leaders mentor future Airmen

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry O. Spencer welcomes several hundred high school students to the 29th Black Engineer of the Year Award Science, Technology, Engineering and Science Conference Feb. 5, 2015, in Washington, D.C. During the conference, Spencer and several general officers and senior executive service members led small mentorship groups. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry O. Spencer welcomes several hundred high school students to the 29th Black Engineer of the Year Award Science, Technology, Engineering and Science Conference Feb. 5, 2015, in Washington, D.C. During the conference, Spencer and several general officers and senior executive service members led small mentorship groups. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry O. Spencer speaks with a small group of high school students during the 29th Black Engineer of the Year Award Science, Technology, Engineering and Science Conference Feb. 5, 2015, in Washington, D.C. During the conference, Spencer and several general officers and senior executive service members led small mentorship groups. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry O. Spencer speaks with a small group of high school students during the 29th Black Engineer of the Year Award Science, Technology, Engineering and Science Conference Feb. 5, 2015, in Washington, D.C. During the conference, Spencer and several general officers and senior executive service members led small mentorship groups. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry O. Spencer, right, and Steffanie B. Easter talk with a small group of high school students during the 29th Black Engineer of the Year Award Science, Technology, Engineering and Science Conference Feb. 5, 2015, in Washington, D.C. During the conference, Spencer and several general officers and senior executive service members led small mentorship groups. Easter is the executive director of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry O. Spencer, right, and Steffanie B. Easter talk with a small group of high school students during the 29th Black Engineer of the Year Award Science, Technology, Engineering and Science Conference Feb. 5, 2015, in Washington, D.C. During the conference, Spencer and several general officers and senior executive service members led small mentorship groups. Easter is the executive director of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- More than 30 Air Force general officers offered their time and expertise to high school students during the Black Engineer of the Year Award (BEYA) Conference Feb. 6, at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.

The annual youth mentorship program was one of many conference events intended to recognize the best of the best in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and the work of a lifetime. Each year, BEYA judges select nominees from a pool of promising college students, new hires, mid-career professionals and managers, C-suite executives, innovators, inventors and change agents.

“I want all of you students to take a look around this room at the people who are here to mentor you,” said Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry O. Spencer, during the mentoring breakout session. “They’ve taken their time to mentor and work with you -- to help you and advise you on how you might progress in your own lives and your own careers.”

More than 150 flag officers from all services within the Defense Department were engaged in the mentoring sessions.

“They don’t get any credit for this – they’re doing this because they want to,” Spencer said. “They’re doing this because they’re interested in you – and they’re interested in you following in their footsteps to continue making our military the best military on the planet.”

Engaging students early on has its benefits to the services, in forms of recruiting as well as overall character development. The Air Force is encouraging students to participate in STEM-based activities to expose more diverse pockets of youth to the possibilities of technical career fields in the armed services.

“We get the opportunity to talk with young people who are going to be the future Airmen, noncommissioned officers and officers in the United States Air Force,” said Brig. Gen. Allen J. Jamerson, the Air Force Director of Security Forces, Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, Installations and Mission Support. “Clearly, we’re a technology-driven service and this program’s emphasis on STEM is just one of the ways we can potentially start to recruit members into the United States Air Force.”

Even if the students don’t join the military, the Air Force still plays a part to help encourage STEM growth across the nation and within industry, he explained.

“I think (the mentorship culture) will have a very positive affect on these kids in the future,” Jamerson said. “I think a lot of them will come out of this realizing it’s okay to talk to an adult, and it’s okay to seek out an adult who is successful and understand how they got to that point.”
Spencer agreed mentoring opens doors for young students that weren’t always available.

“When I was in school, no one came to see me,” he said. “There was no program like this – there was no BEYA, there were no mentors. We sort of had to stumble along on our own. Where a lot of us stumbled, we don’t want you to have to stumble.”

Officers from a myriad of career fields were available to talk to students about anything from commissioning processes to career progression – even social media.

“This year is the best level of participation that we’ve had in the BEYA program and I believe it will only get bigger from here,” Jamerson said. “Part of our job as senior leaders is to bring in and develop our replacements. I look across this room and I just see a bunch of young Airmen – not high school students – and those Airmen are the ones who are going to replace me and replace my chief someday. We’re doing our part now to ensure our organization continues to be successful in the future.”

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