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Student internship program celebrates 20th year

  • Published
  • By Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, OHIO (AFRL) – Sixty interns from 31 high schools nationwide recently completed the Wright Scholar Research Assistant Program despite the continued challenges posed by COVID-19. The summer internship, now it is 20th year, offers research opportunities and paid work experiences to high school students interested in science, technology, engineering and math or STEM fields. Since its inception, 707 students from more than 100 high schools have participated in the program.
“Through this internship and its host of supporters, I am confident that Wright Scholars will make lasting and significant future impacts in science, engineering and medical fields,” said Debbie Miller, Wright Scholars program manager. “It’s easy to see the incredible way the program influences its interns and how it continues to be a truly unforgettable experience for those who participate,” she said.
The 2021 class, the largest group yet, included 47 first-year students plus 13 returning or second-year interns with four out-of-state students from Michigan, South Carolina and California. While the program successfully shifted to a virtual environment last year amid the pandemic, this year’s interns worked mainly on-site with some telework.
“Mentors took the lead to establish whether to have the students work on-site, telework or do a combination of both,” said Miller. “Most of the interns engaged in a hybrid experience this year.”
The Wright Scholar Program affords selected high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to work with mentors from the Air Force Research Laboratory and Air Force Institute of Technology on research projects for eight to nine weeks during the summer. Program applicants are competitively selected based upon their GPA, advanced coursework, demonstrated leadership, interest and participation in STEM platforms and the quality of written essays.
“The program truly brings a wealth of information to selected students regarding future careers in addition to real-world experience in STEM,” said Miller.
The students selected this year worked across AFRL in the Aerospace Systems Directorate, Materials and Manufacturing, Sensors, 711th Human Performance Wing and in the Gaming Research Integration for Learning Laboratory or GRILL. Some supported the University Hospital in Cincinnati as part of the C-STARS program under the 711HPW.
Each site provides a unique environment for these students to grow and explore their fields of interest while the scientists and engineers, who volunteer their time, offer support and guidance, ultimately enabling the students to complete unique work projects while gaining valuable knowledge and skills. This year’s group explored various fields from computer programming to materials engineering, aerospace systems and medicine.
John Wang, a senior from Beavercreek, and Sam Reichman, a graduate of Carroll High School, conducted a machine learning project for the 711HPW as part of their internship. Both said they plan to publish their work once the study they supported is publicly released.
“Three factors – work locations, mentors and projects – create the immersive experience,” said Wang, describing the internship as “a phenomenal opportunity [to have] at such an early stage in one’s career.”
Reichman noted that the internship afforded him with “the opportunity to conduct interesting and important research.” 
Andrew Rich, a senior from Oakwood assigned to AFRL’s Aerospace Systems Directorate, analyzed jet engine turbine aerodynamics in a low speed wind tunnel, studying the effects of boundary layers and designing specialized systems.
Chris Humphrey, a recent high school graduate from Dublin Coffman near Columbus, interned in AFRL’s Sensors Directorate where he learned key engineering skills including computer-aided design software and computer-numerical control or CNC machine operation.
“I gained confidence in the workplace while being provided with tasks to complete,” he said. “It was an eye-opening opportunity that gave me experience in the career path I intend to follow.”
Preston Hancock, a graduate of Beavercreek High School, was placed in AFIT where he worked on remote sensing image registration. 
“Through this internship, I have a much greater understanding of what I want to major in when I go to college,” he said.
Maya Narayanan, a senior from Centerville, interned in AFRL’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, where she deepened her understanding of chemistry and engineering.
“I was thrilled to apply my knowledge to real-life research,” she said. “Since the vast majority of materials engineering is conducted at the atomic scale, it is extremely fascinating to see how this information fits into a much larger puzzle.”
Amrith Akula, a graduate of Kings High School, interned at the GRILL as a member of the digital drone team where he simulated all aspects of a search and rescue scenario using an unmanned aerial vehicle. Akula enjoyed using game development software and processes to solve real-world problems.
“The experience was extremely exciting and immersive,” he said, noting that “the social and technical skills [he] gained will be highly useful throughout [his] career.”
At the culmination of the program, Wright Scholars briefed their mentors and fellow interns on their project work and experiences with many students describing the experience as “truly unforgettable.”
“There’s no better way to understand the impact the program has on the students than by hearing about their experiences,” said Miller.
According to program data, 96 percent of Wright Scholars ultimately pursue degrees in STEM fields and in medicine. The others seek careers in business, finance and in similar fields.
“Although retention of these students in AFRL following college graduation is a key goal of the program, knowing that they will make lasting contributions in science and engineering wherever they go is a significant and worthwhile take-away,” said Miller.
This year’s program also included several luncheon lectures featuring world-class scientists and engineers who provided students with insight into various careers and fields. The Ohio State University Professor Betty Lise Anderson led a hands-on workshop in electrical engineering. Mike Ooten from AFRL’s Aerospace Systems Directorate taught a technical course in aerospace propulsion research. This year’s program also highlighted Dayton’s rich history in aviation and engineering through guided tours of the U.S. Air Force National Museum and Carillon Park.
For more information on the Wright Scholar Research Assistant program, visit or or contact Debbie Miller at

Special thanks to the following Wright Scholar Research Assistant Program interns for their contributions to the continued success of the program and to this story: Amrith Akula, Chris Humphrey, Preston Hancock, Maya Narayanan and John Wang.

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