AFRL enhances workforce through STEM outreach programs

  • Published
  • By Catherine Sprague
  • Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFRL) – The Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL’s, Munitions Directorate recently hired three former interns directly from its esteemed STEM outreach programs to serve Eglin Air Force Base in delivering effective and affordable munitions technologies to the warfighter. The new AFRL employees demonstrate the success and positive effects of outreach programs on the future workforce and AFRL’s ability to “Drive the Fight” in science and technology.

Clare Jones, Wanjiku (Ciku) Makumi and Cesar Lopez-Zelaya all began their AFRL journeys with the AFRL Scholars Program.

The AFRL Scholars Program offers stipend-paid internship opportunities for undergraduate and graduate-level university students as they pursue STEM degrees, as well as upper-level high school students. Interns gain valuable hands-on experience working with full-time AFRL scientists and engineers on developing cutting-edge research and technology and are able to contribute to unique, research-based projects.

Some students, like Lopez-Zelaya, went on to participate in additional DOD internship programs, while others, like Makumi, participated in the AFRL Scholars Program for multiple years.

In addition to internship programs, students are able to take advantage of tuition assistance programs, such as the Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation, or SMART, Scholarship.

“Due to my awesome internship experience, I decided to apply for the prestigious SMART Scholarship, and it was awarded to me,” said Makumi, who was recently hired as an AFRL Research Aerospace Engineer. “Now, I am very excited to start my career at AFRL after graduation, especially since I know I already love it here.”
Not only do SMART Scholars receive full tuition reimbursements, but they also earn annual stipends and the opportunity to pursue a career within the DOD after graduation.
The three new subject matter experts cited various ways the programs benefitted them, from networking to learning from experienced scientists and engineers, Lopez-Zelaya said.
“Participating in STEM outreach programs offers a multitude of benefits,” Lopez-Zelaya said. “These programs can help an individual figure out their career trajectory, fostering valuable connections through networking and collaborating with experts in the field.”
Lopez-Zelaya said he is now part of the Munitions Directorate’s Seekers Branch, where he investigates unique optical processes to develop novel fiber laser technologies for the warfighter.
The AFRL Scholars Program is just one of the many STEM outreach and internship programs available to students. College students preparing for careers in STEM can also pursue programs like the Palace Acquire Internship, the AFRL STEM Student Employment Program and several others.
Jones, now a campaign analyst for the Modeling Simulation and Analysis branch of the Munitions Directorate, encourages prospective students to take advantage of the STEM outreach program to get a jumpstart on their future careers.
 “I say go for it,” Jones said. “If you like the work and make contacts, you’re already known within the organization you’re wanting to work in. You make a good impression, and your points of reference are coworkers rather than people outside of the organization. This is a win-win scenario.”
Brian Mitchell, the Pipeline Coordinator of the Munitions Directorate’s Workforce Development branch, also emphasized the value of AFRL STEM outreach programs.
“We have a responsibility to help create the next generation of scientists, engineers and technicians for the Air Force, the Space Force and society,” Mitchell said. “To do that, we have to cast a wide net and find those incredibly smart kids who live in small towns and big cities, rural kids and urban kids. We need to work hard to set them on a path that makes STEM exciting and thrilling, that shows them that they can do amazing things. If we do it right, we can change the world.”
To learn more about AFRL internship programs, visit
 About AFRL
The Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 12,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit