By Darrell Todd Maurina
Much of what the Air Force does involves preparing for battle in the skies over hostile nations, raining lethal strikes down upon the enemies of the United States.
But some Air Force activities are just plain fun.
That’s what Gerald Mora of the research laboratory at Phillips Research Site, part of Kirtland Air Force Base, said about the program he runs, known as Technology Transfer for Education.
Mora and his staff will come to Clovis Oct. 29 to train teachers from schools all over eastern New Mexico on how to help their students prepare for a simulated Mars colonization mission. Elsewhere, Mora helped Fort Sumner schools create an advanced weather station providing real-world weather data to KOB-TV4 in Albuquerque, and he works with other schools to help their students receive mentoring in doing custom-designed research projects.
“Working in this program is probably the most fun I’ve ever had,” Mora said.
That’s not mild praise, since Mora’s projects before he joined the Technology Transfer for Education project in 1994 included work with the space shuttle and some of the weapons systems used in Operation Desert Storm, the first attack on Iraq a decade ago.
“This is by far the most rewarding. You’re working with kids to get them excited about math, science and engineering,” Mora said. “If you see a light go on in a kid, there’s no way to explain it; that’s wonderful.”
According to Air Force promotional materials, the Technology Transfer for Education program began a decade ago with an effort to bring advanced technology into contact with elementary and high school students.
The targets were not just large urban schools with significant resources, but also schools in rural and underprivileged communities where the Air Force may be the only means of providing students with top-level modern science equipment and curriculum.
Depending on the specific local needs and interests, the program may provide modern computers, scientific lab equipment, or science-related curricula.
The Fort Sumner program, for example, came about because KOB-TV4 needed a weather observing station in DeBaca County. The Air Force provided the equipment and training, and the school provided a whole staff of students to run the station.
“The schools need to make a commitment that if they get the weather station that there will be an educational use for the station and it won’t just sit there and gather dust,” Mora said. “What I have found is the smaller rural schools are more appreciative of the Air Force. The smaller schools are amazed that they are welcomed to participate in the outreach programs.”
For Clovis schools, the Technology Transfer for Education program reaps double benefits. Not only is the Air Force interested in promoting science education, Cannon Air Force Base provides a convenient location for training.
“In 1994 when we had the first Mars mission,”Mora said. “We were planning to do mostly schools in the local area near us. Clovis called us and said they were interested. We’ve had a great relationship ever since.”