PRIME Students Sacrifice Summer to Study STEM

  • Published
  • By Harley Huntington
  • 412th Test Wing Public Affairs

The 412th Test Wing’s STEM program has wrapped up another successful year of its PRIME outreach program. PRIME, short for Promoting Relevance and Interest in Mathematical Experiences, is a four-week summer math class specially designed to empower incoming freshmen by strengthening their math skills and showcasing the vast array of STEM-related career opportunities available in aerospace and aviation at Edwards Air Force Base.

According to Edwards consistently has dozens of high-paying engineering and other STEM-related positions to fill. Helida Vanhoy, 412th Test Wing STEM Outreach Manager said she created PRIME with the help of Dr. Ivan Cheng, California State University Northridge Professor of Education to help local students excel in math, which may ultimately prepare them to take advantage of these great opportunities.

 “Math is the core essence of all sciences. Research shows that less than 1% of the student population pursues a math degree. We know from student interviews that the students do not care for math, they are afraid of it, and they do not understand its real-life application. The math lessons, hands-on activities, and field trips to Edwards Air Force Base are all carefully planned to address misconceptions, enhance understanding of math concepts, and change the negative attitudes towards mathematics,” Vanhoy said.

During the program, the students immerse themselves in hours of math instruction and lectures, solidifying their foundation in various STEM-relevant principles. Although the instruction portion of class takes up most of the day, the teachers leading the program are mindful of burnout potential and work to strike a balance, allowing for lighter classroom moments.

Anna-Marie Leon, PRIME instructor, calls these moments “brain breaks.” Leon said after periods of intense lectures they “will change it up and do a share or a group activity that gives the students an opportunity to reset.”

These moments of levity help promote teamwork, problem-solving, and communication skills—essential traits for success not just in STEM careers but also in life, Leon said.

Matthew Winheim, STEM and Mathematics Educator for Palmdale School District and PRIME Mentor Teacher, expressed his enthusiasm for the program.

"This program affords students an opportunity to see and experience career fields where mathematical literacy and problem-solving skills are critical. We aren't just telling them they'll use math in the future; we're showing them how professionals in our Aerospace Valley are using it right now.” Winheim said. “Students learn that there is no such thing as a 'math mind,' and with practice, they can excel at it. That's when it becomes really exciting."

The PRIME program is completely voluntary. Each of the 28 students enrolled in the class had to apply for their spot, demonstrating their eagerness to participate. While their peers might be indulging in typical summer break activities, PRIME students approach the break with a different perspective and a passion for learning.

Paul Toledo-Barajas, PRIME student, said he does not miss his typical summer vacation.

“I know if I were at home I’d just be doing nothing. I might as well come here and put my brain to work and work on my future,” Toledo-Barajas said.

As Edwards Air Force Base continues its efforts in STEM outreach, the PRIME initiative remains a successful example of the impact that dedicated educators and innovative programs can have on shaping the future of young minds. The base looks forward to welcoming today’s STEM students as tomorrow’s STEM professionals.