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Thirty-three high school students explored the sights and sounds of NAS Patuxent River while discovering future Naval Air Systems Command career opportunities during Disability Mentoring Day on Oct. 17.

This eighth annual event, sponsored by NAVAIR's Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, emphasizes the connection between school and work, and helps students evaluate their personal goals and explore possible career paths. This year had the largest group of participating students.

"This event was our most successful yet. Every year, we like to bring students behind the scenes to see what real NAVAIR employees do, with the hope that we'll inspire them to want to return here to work one day. The chance for them to spend some time learning about new opportunities can be an eye opener," said human resource specialist Paula Hummer, who helped organize the event.

Students toured the base via bus and then made stops at the Human Systems Department, VX-20 hangarfeaturing the C-130 Hercules and North American T-2 Buckeye aircraftand the Aviation Survival Training Center. The day also included an invitational meet-and-greet session with 16 NAVAIR hiring managers.

"My favorite was the dome because I got to try and drive a jet," said Patuxent High School student Chad Mercier.

The day was partly sponsored by NAVAIR's Individuals with Disabilities Advocacy Team, which focuses on recruiting and retaining individuals with disabilities.

"I was very impressed with the caliber of students that participated in Disability Mentoring Day. They really took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about what NAVAIR does to support our Sailors and Marines," said Director of NAVAIR's Integrated Systems Evaluation, Experimentation and Test Development Steve Cricchi, who is also an executive champion for the Individuals with Disabilities Advocacy Team. "It's gratifying to help them understand how taking science and math classes today can translate directly into an interesting and fulfilling career in the future."

Dan Nega, director of NAVAIR's Aviation Readiness and Resource Analysis Department and also an executive champion for the Individuals with Disabilities Advocacy Team, gave some specific advice to the students: "Challenge yourself in school. Take those hard math and science classes. Follow the science, technology, engineering and mathematics path, and then one day get to work on cool stuff here at NAVAIR."

Similar activities and programs recognizing Disability Mentoring Day were also held at other NAVAIR sites nationally.