AFMC Command News

Mentors inspire tomorrow’s innovators through STEM outreach

  • Published
  • By Katie Scott
  • Air Force Institute of Technology

 WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- An Air Force Institute of Technology professor and student recently showed how mentoring and workforce development play pivotal roles in nurturing the next generation of scientists, engineers and innovators.

Jose Camberos, an AFIT associate professor of aerospace engineering with over 30 years of experience, and Kara Combs, an associate computer engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory who’s pursuing a doctorate at AFIT, shared their insights on mentoring high school students and the reciprocal impact it had.

The mentoring duo met while volunteering for TechFest, an annual K-12 science, technology, engineering and math outreach event at Sinclair Community College in Dayton.

“I mentioned that I worked at AFRL and was also a student at AFIT,” Combs said. “We shared an interest in STEM outreach and started collaborating.”

Their shared passion for STEM outreach led to a collaborative venture in co-mentoring two high school students as part of the Wright Scholar Research Assistant Program—an AFRL initiative designed to expose juniors and seniors to various engineering and science disciplines.

During the internship, the students worked on a generative artificial intelligence project, exploring the creation and evaluation of images. They gained hands-on experience in a cutting-edge technology area, delving into AI and machine learning.


“They worked on creating the images and seeing how they are crafted,” Combs said. “They also evaluated the images looking to see if the image was high quality or blurry, suggesting that it was AI generated, so that is where human-factors engineering came into the project.”

Camberos met with the students once a week to help guide their work and answer questions.

“Mentoring is a time commitment, but Kara is a very organized co-mentor and had the whole plan laid out,” he said. “At the end of the summer, the students generated a very nice poster on their research, too. I was very impressed with their accomplishments.”

Camberos and Combs took the time to schedule tours of other Wright-Patterson Air Force Base organizations that were of interest to the students to highlight practical STEM applications within a military context.

“We climbed radar towers – that was really fun,” Combs said. “We also went to a couple of the AFRL Fuels and Energy labs because one of the students was interested in biochemistry and the lab showed them how chemistry is used in an Air Force setting.”

The internship program not only allowed students to differentiate themselves for college and scholarship applications but also enabled them to build a valuable network, increasing their prospects for future internships and jobs in STEM fields.

“The students gained hands-on experience in a high-impact technology area that has revolutionized life as we know it,” Combs said. “Now, they have done a little bit of programming and have experience with AI and machine learning. That’s a really big plus as they are applying to colleges this year.”

Camberos and Combs also participated in a job-shadow program through the Wright-Patterson Educational Outreach Office. They hosted six students for a day, offering insights into their work and exposing them to various STEM aspects within the military context.

The day included presentations, demonstrations, tours and even hands-on experiences like using unmanned aerial vehicles and flight simulators.

“I think the highlight for the students was using the flight simulators,” Combs said. “They got to take turns flying different planes, well, crashing different planes.”

The students are not the only ones to benefit from the mentoring programs. For mentors, the experience offers a chance to contribute to the next generation, instilling passion and dedication in STEM.

For Combs, time spent with the students provided a unique opportunity to step away from the regular work routine while gaining valuable leadership and team-building skills by leading a project at an early career stage.

Camberos appreciates the opportunity to mentor both students and the next generation of STEM mentors such as Combs.

“For me, mentoring a mentor is hopefully seeding the passion and the dedication that it takes to continue these programs,” he said. “It’s very gratifying to see not just the students flourish but also the people I get to work with like Kara do that, too. It’s a win-win-win the way I see it.”

STEM mentorship programs contribute significantly to workforce development by inspiring young minds and preparing them for rewarding careers in science and technology, Camberos added. Mentor dedication reflects the broader commitment of organizations like AFIT and AFRL to cultivate a robust STEM pipeline.

About AFRL 

The Air Force Research Laboratory 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

(From left) Jose Camberos, an associate professor of aerospace engineering at the Air Force Institute of Technology, and Kara Combs, an associate computer engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory and AFIT doctoral student, hosted six local high school students for a day, offering insights into their work and exposing them to various STEM aspects within the military context. (Contributed photo)