By WRAL Tech Wire STEM News

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Louis Emond’s role as an innovator in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education began with a chance talk with one of the nation’s most storied aviators.

Jimmy Doolittle, the famed World War II pilot and developer of instrument flying, was president of the United States Air Force Association (AFA) when Emond was just an ROTC cadet. Now, a retired officer and leader of the AFA’s North Carolina chapter, Emond attributes much of his success and AFA involvement to that meeting with Doolittle.

“Jimmy Doolittle walked up to me and asked me to stay involved in the Air Force Association,” recalled Emond, a resident of Wake County. “So I joined right then and have been involved ever since.”

Today, the AFA is one of the country’s leading organizations involved in teaching young people about the practical applications of technology. The North Carolina chapter is particularly active, offering scholarships for students interested in STEM subjects and awards to teachers that demonstrate innovative techniques in STEM education.

Lately, Emond is especially proud of the work begin done to interest young people in cybersecurity.

“We recognized that cyberterrorism is one of the nation’s most pressing threats. The more I learn about that threat, the scarier it gets,” said Emond. “So, we instituted a program teaching kids how to build and defend a computer program against an attack.”

That program, the U.S. CyberPatriot Program, wrapped up the third round of national competition this spring with 26 North Carolina teams competing. Emond said he hopes to have more than 100 teams from North Carolina represented in CyberPatriot IV, this year’s annual competition scheduled in September.

CyberPatriot is the national high school cyber defense competition created by the AFA. The competition will pit 2,500 high school students from around the country against a team of professional “cyber attackers” in a race against the clock to build, secure, and defend a computer network.

The goal is to generate interest among high school students to pursue the STEM skills required to keep the country safe from this growing threat. The prize for the top dozen teams is an expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. to compete in the national finals next April.

“The kids love it, and it’s teaching them exactly what they need to know,” added Emond. “Ultimately, I want to see our society lionize our STEM students just as much as we lionize our athletes.”

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