Investing in the future of STEM

Raytheon Technologies prepares students at Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering for STEM careers

Elizabeth Orton,14, and Felix Airhart, 15, are thinking about their futures.

Orton is leaning toward environmental engineering, “working in a way that will help the planet decrease humanity’s impact on it,” but she’s also interested in software engineering, aerospace engineering and a career at NASA. Airhart is considering software development, web development and aerospace engineering.

“I’m sort of all over the board with several interests that don’t quite culminate into one thing,” Airhart said.

Whatever they choose, they’ll build from a strong foundation. Both students attend the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering, or ASCTE, in Huntsville Alabama. The free college prep school – set in a city full of scientists, engineers and cyber experts – is a training ground for students considering careers in science, technology, engineering and math, collectively known as STEM.     

“We must develop a workforce – develop talent – that will be at the forefront of these initiatives,” said Dr. Rosemary Hodges, dean of Teacher and Student Learning at ASCTE. “The school gives them exposure early on.”

The ASCTE is Alabama’s only fully public residential high school for students statewide who seek advanced studies in engineering and cyber technology. Curriculum is taught by industry experts, and elements of engineering and cyber technology factor into each course.

Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering, or ASCTE, in Huntsville Alabama.

Felix Airhart of Harvest, Alabama, and Elizabeth Orton of Madison, Alabama, are freshmen, or level 1, students at ASCTE.

Students complete an internship during their last year and graduate with more than a diploma. Equipped with real-world experience, certifications – and possibly even a security clearance – they can go directly into the field and work while they earn a college degree.

And that’s where companies like Raytheon Technologies come in.

Since ASCTE’s opening in August 2020, the company has supported the school, both as a foundation donor and through the time and expertise of its employees. 

“Raytheon talent brings ‘boots-on-the-ground’ knowledge…professional disposition, teaming, cyber and engineering so students can see it in practical terms,” Hodges said. 

The school has 71 students and will add 85 freshmen, or “level 1,” students in the next academic year, which starts in August and ends in May. 

For science classes, students start in physics, then take chemistry, followed by biotechnology. 

Other classes include technical writing, cryptology and economics. Teachers meet and spend up to three hours a week analyzing and planning coursework.

“The engineering teacher knows what the cyber teacher is teaching and the language teacher will then connect what she’s teaching to cyber, engineering and history,” Hodges said. “None of it is disjointed, and every player is designing the curriculum.”  

Mentoring and internship

Students will finish coursework in three years and intern in industry during their final year. The first class will participate in a 12-week internship, with plans to expand that to 24 weeks in the future. Some internships may evolve into paid apprenticeships. 

Students placed at secure locations like military installations and defense contractors will apply for security clearances. 

When students reach their junior year, or level 3, they are assigned a mentor from industry. Raytheon Technologies will mentor the first group of students starting in August 2022. 

“Engineers love to share their experiences,” said Lisa Bates, a senior principle systems engineer at Raytheon Missiles & Defense and a mentor at ASCTE. “We love to show others what we know.” 

Working in the field alongside industry experts, students learn topics not typically covered in a classroom – how to innovate, how to apply for a patent, how to be a thought leader.  

“It’s so important for people who have been down that path to show others,” Bates said. “Without leadership and mentorship, it’s almost insurmountable.”

A new campus

As part of its investment in STEM education programs, Raytheon Technologies donated $4 million to ASCTE to help build a new facility.

The school’s temporary location is at Oakwood University and in 2022, it will relocate to its new campus in the heart of Huntsville’s Cummings Research Park, near the U.S. Army Redstone Arsenal. The new school will have capacity for up to 500 students.

To learn more, visit ASCTE