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Aeronautics professor leads field in STEM mentorship
Dr. William Crisler, a professor in the Air Force Academy's Aeronautics Department, was recently named winner of the 2011 Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Mentorship Award by the Federal Laboratory Consortium’s Mid-Continent Region. (U.S. Air Force Photo/David Edwards)
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Aeronautics professor tops field in STEM mentorship

Posted 8/4/2011   Updated 8/5/2011 Email story   Print story


by David Edwards
Air Force Academy Public Affairs

8/4/2011 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Air Force Academy's STEM initiative is now in full flower, and the efforts of its primary contributor, Dr. William Crisler, are coming up roses.

Now Crisler is about to assume the spotlight and be honored for his success in inspiring children and teens to take an interest in science, technology, engineering and math.

The Federal Laboratory Consortium's Mid-Continent Region named the STEM Outreach Center director the winner of the 2011 STEM Mentorship Award, which he will receive at the regional meeting in Monterey, Calif., at the end of August.

Col. Brent Richert, the Academy's chief scientist, called Crisler "the driving force behind establishing a funded outreach program" at the Academy.

Since the Outreach Center's establishment in February, it has empowered teachers and enlightened students by enlivening some potentially tedious subjects.

While continuing to teach aeronautics at the Academy, Crisler has excelled in his new role and demonstrated his versatility.

"His enterprise-level planning and coordination (have) brought government, industry and educational partners together to kindle the fire of interest ... for elementary through high school students in Southern Colorado," Richert said.

Among the ways he has done that are the annual STEM boot camps for local teachers and a plethora of activities that capture budding imaginations. Popular STEM activities, notably the Academy's in-demand Chemistry Magic Show, have made "rock stars" out of professor Ron Furstenau and his colleagues, Crisler said.

The STEM Outreach Center developed an alter ego on Twitter and Facebook named Ms. Aurora, Ph.D. The falcon character, named for the Academy's most famous mascot, focuses the attention of students and STEM educators. She and similar characters from Stanford University and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics facilitate online STEM adventures.

Under Crisler's direction, the center has secured more than $600,000 in federal funding to support projects that inspire interest in STEM subjects at the grass-roots level.

As for the man of the hour, he enjoys being able to do both jobs.

"The ideal is for me to remain half and half, running the STEM Center and teaching aircraft design," he said. "Teaching here keeps me in touch with the technical side of things and validates my credentials with the people I'm trying to build teams with."

Academy involvement in spreading the STEM canon sprang from the response to a National Academy of Sciences report titled "Gathering Storm." The report raised concerns of a coming shortage in the work force for high-knowledge occupations unless future generations of American children were motivated to delve into the necessary subjects.

Col. Neal Barlow, the head of the Engineering Department at the Academy, and former chief scientist Col. Rob Fredell led the STEM charge along the Front Range. They enlisted the help of Crisler, a move that proved fortuitous.

"It's really their vision and energy that got this all started," Crisler said. "At the time they asked, they had no idea that I had been a high school math teacher before I entered the Air Force in 1980 or that I had been a business development manager at Harris Corp. after I retired from the Air Force."

Even if it was unwittingly, they couldn't have picked someone more suited for the task at hand. Crisler's previous experience dovetailed perfectly with the objectives of the STEM outreach.

And in his mind, his STEM audiences have much in common with the cadets he teaches. He said the core engineering courses at the Academy, for example, could be transplanted into most high schools with little difficulty.

"The excitement (students) feel once they discover that STEM is interesting and that they can do it is the same, regardless of age," Crisler said.

Based on his effectiveness at teaching cadets, it's easy to deduce why the consortium's regional awards committee saw fit to choose Crisler.

"As an educator, he is a top innovator and a sought-out teacher for motivating and mentoring cadets in the aeronautics curriculum," Richert said. "Sample feedback from his students includes: 'He knows his stuff and it's always fun to have a teacher who teaches their passion,' and 'Dr. Crisler does an awesome job!'"

In a few weeks, the Federal Laboratory Consortium, which is a national network of federal laboratories, will add to the accolades and confirm Richert's assessment.

The Academy last won an FLC regional award in 2009, when it took top honors in the Notable Technology Development category for work on ammonia-hydride hydrogen generation and storage.

In informing the Academy of Crisler's award, Mid-Continent Region Program Manager Ann Kerksieck said, "We are always blown away by the caliber of programs and research taking place at the U.S. Air Force Academy."

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