AFA In Action. Updates on AFA’s activities, outreach, awards, and advocacy.
Photo Caption & Credits

AFA in Action

Dec. 3, 2021

Updates on AFA’s activities, outreach, awards, and advocacy.

106 Years Old and Still Going Strong

Albert Maggini photographed during a celebration of his 106th birthday at Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, Calif., September 2021. John Nelson

Al Maggini, who completed 35 bombing missions as a B-17 navigator with the Eighth Air Force in World War II, turned 106 recently and celebrated at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport in September. Air Force Association member Lt. Col. Ralph Wade, USAF (Ret.) worked to bring Maggini’s achievements recognition. Wade is a member of the Tennessee Ernie Ford Chapter in California

“My [military] service began about three months after the war was declared,” Maggini said. “My country needed me and there was no question about [joining], only on whether I serve in the Navy or the Army.”

Maggini enlisted in the Army Air Corps and later became a cadet at the age of 27 after several years working in the investment business.

“There must have been way over 2,000 guns and we had to fly through it,” Maggini said. “But we couldn’t take any evasive action because you got to stay on that line.”

“I didn’t get the chance to go to college because I graduated in 1933, at the bottom of The [Great] Depression,” Maggini said. “My mother didn’t have any money, so I went to work. I always had a feeling of being a little bit below all the rest of the guys who went to college, but the service didn’t ask me whether I went to college or not. They just wanted me to navigate an airplane and that gave me a lot more confidence in my life.”

He recalled flying into heavy resistance, in particular on a mission to bomb an oil refinery in Leipzig, Germany. “There must have been way over 2,000 guns and we had to fly through it,” Maggini said. “But we couldn’t take any evasive action because you got to stay on that line.”

Returning to the investment business after the war, he rose through the ranks at a Santa Rosa, Calif., firm, eventually becoming its director in 1967, and becoming an active fundraiser and board member for the Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital Foundation, for which he’s raised an estimated $200 million over the years.

“If I had to do it over again, I would be very happy to do it over the same way,” Maggini said. “When you go to work, whether it’s in the military or not, you’ve got to go to work and put your heart and soul into doing the best job you can do. I always tried to do that.”

Solving America’s Cyber Tech Workforce Shortages

National Security Concerns Drive AFA’s CyberPatriot,

StellarXplorers Programs.

Students from the Bentonville Ignite Professional Studies team from Arkansas competed in Round 1 of CyberPatriot XIV 2021. CyberPatriot/courtesy

Rising cybersecurity threats and expanding reliance on computer networks and space-based technologies are fueling increased demands for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills in both the civilian and national security sectors. The 2020 Cybersecurity Workforce Study conducted by ISC(2) found 40 percent of cybersecurity jobs in the United States remain vacant because the nation has too few cybersecurity professionals.

The nation also faces a shortage in engineering, math and other computer-related professions. Although the 2019 Global Engineering Capability Review ranks the United States No. 1 in engineering knowledge, it places the U.S. engineering workforce at 30th worldwide, far behind China (No. 7), Russia (14), and even Portugal (4) and Vietnam (10). The problem could soon get worse: the United States ranked 30th in math and 11th in science in the OECD’s 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment of 15-year-old students worldwide, which concluded that only 20 percent of U.S. high school graduates were prepared for college-level STEM courses.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, the need for a well-equipped cybersecurity workforce has only been accelerated.

“It’s been said that the leap in digital transformation advanced about seven years, just in the year of 2020 alone, because of the pandemic,” according to retired Maj. Gen. Kimberly A. Crider (USAF), a senior counselor and adviser to the Air Force Association. “That digital transformation happened so quickly it created a lot of risk because we didn’t have a workforce ready to support the growing demand and capabilities that we’ve all become so dependent on. Meanwhile, there was about a 430 percent increase in ransomware attacks in 2020, as cyber criminals saw the opportunity to go after our data and information.”

That’s one reason why Crider is devoting a significant amount of her post-retirement time to help expand AFA’s STEM programs: CyberPatriot and StellarXplorers.

As the nation’s largest national youth cyber education program, CyberPatriot seeks to generate student interest in STEM education and careers through competition.

“CyberPatriot excites students about STEM education and cybersecurity from a very young age,” Rebecca Dalton, Director of CyberPatriot’s Engagement and Outreach, said. “[The program] engages students at a deeper level and helps them understand what they are truly capable of. Many students give CyberPatriot a try without having any prior knowledge of cybersecurity, but it’s the excitement and awareness of the competition that motivates them toward becoming the next generation of the cyber workforce.”

Now entering its eighth season, CyberPatriot’s National Youth Cyber Defense Competition has grown to include more than 7,000 teams. During the competition, students work together to solve cybersecurity vulnerabilities in a provided operating system, all in hopes of advancing to the State, Semifinal, and National Final rounds. The last pre-pandemic season drew over 25,000 students.

CyberPatriot has inspired careers. According to its 2020 Participant and Alumni Survey, 84 percent of alumni respondents reported they went on to study and/or work in STEM-related fields. That’s more than four times higher than the national average.  

Monica Saraf, for example, was a six-time participant in CyberPatriot, who has since embarked on a career as a cybersecurity consultant after working as an intern at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“Originally, I didn’t think I would be very interested in cybersecurity,” said Saraf. “But after I tried CyberPatriot in the 7th grade, it became something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

“This program was the start of something great for me,” Victoria Chu, a four-time CyberPatriot participant said. “I went on to study computer science and electrical engineering and now, I even work a cybersecurity job. The topics I learned about in CyberPatriot gave me a great basis for the work I do today.”

AFA’s other STEM education initiative focuses on space-based technologies and teaches the basics of satellite launch operations and management.

“StellarXplorers is focused on the problem-solving aspects of space and getting students excited about being able to do physics concepts, without worrying about all the crazy, very intimidating math concepts that are often associated with it,” said Julie Demyanovich, who manages the StellarXplorers competitions. “Students often come in with very little space knowledge, but they leave feeling confident in themselves and using the same software that engineers use on a daily basis.” 

The StellarXplorers program develops three specific skillsets: Orbit Planning, Satellite Design, and Launch Operations. Teams work together to accomplish tasks within these skillsets in hopes of qualifying for the National Final round, where they must balance and complete all three tasks within an eight-hour time period.  

“We are building the future workforce for space exploration and space security,” Demyanovich said.  

“We want to inspire students to think of rocket science as an actual career they can pursue and make the field more approachable for students by having this really great competition available to them.” 

Former participants in the StellarXplorers program tend to agree.

“It’s pretty eye-opening to see just how many components go into the entire satellite launching process and how many different considerations you have to take into account,” Jennifer, a StellarXplorers participant, said. “Then to be in a mock environment of that and really show what I’ve learned over the years and be able to practice it with a team has just been incredible.”

An instructor at the 2021 StellarXplorers Camp explains the theory of orbital spaceflight at the Basic Research Innovation Collaboration Center in Arlington, Va. Students worked on space systems simulation software used by real space professionals. Mike Tsukamoto/staff

“I learned not just what goes on in the aerospace industry, but also the process of launching a spacecraft into orbit,” said Ramus, another StellarXplorers participant. “In fact, it was also through StellarXplorers that I learned about an internship opportunity with Boeing that I was able to participate in last summer.”

In addition to STEM, these competitions also foster leadership and communication skills that play a pivotal role in these fields, particularly in cybersecurity. 

According to a survey by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), 70 percent of IT decision-makers consider communication skills to be scarce among cybersecurity graduates. Additionally, more than half of the respondents said finding candidates strong in communication and team leadership was a struggle. 

“The failure to develop these skills has a serious impact on the effectiveness of graduates once they enter the workplace,” wrote co-author and CSIS Senior Vice President James Lewis. “The ability to work as a team is essential, since cybersecurity is rarely handled by single individuals. Problem-solving forms the very foundation of effective cybersecurity work and many graduates face significant obstacles troubleshooting real-world systems.” 


Consequently, developing leadership and communication skills has been integrated into both the CyberPatriot and StellarXplorers programs. 

“CyberPatriot has greatly impacted where I am now by showing me the most important part of all the jobs that I have worked at: teamwork,” said Owen O’Dea, a participant in the 2019-2020 CyberPatriot competition. “Although often overlooked, a lot of teamwork is required within the industry.”

“StellarXplorers was one of my first tastes of actually being in a cooperative environment where everyone is working toward the same goal,” StellarXplorers participant Jennifer, said of the competition’s collaborative nature. “So being able to work alongside other passionate people under responsible guidance helped me gain a better understanding of what teamwork truly is.”

These programs are designed with an eye toward producing the future workforce in STEM-related fields our country needs, as the combination of technical and non-technical skills developed through AFA’s programs make students more competitive when they enter the job market. This is primarily because their experience in these competitions is both practical and applicable to real-life work situations.

This bodes well for program participants as demand for STEM skills in the job market continues to grow. According to the Education Commission of the States, STEM jobs are projected to grow by 13 percent between 2017 and 2027, compared to just 9 percent for all other jobs. 

Consequently, developing future employees to fill those jobs in both cybersecurity and space, has become a national imperative.  

“STEM education is foundational to the operational field in the United States Air Force and in the United States Space Force, as their missions depend upon secure operations that rely heavily on information systems and the ability to access, use, and leverage data on a global level,” Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Kim Crider said. “We need skilled cyber professionals that understand the connection between air, space and cyber, and need to be able to apply their skills to enable us to stay ahead of national security threats.” 

Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, Chief of Space Operations, USSF, shared a similar sentiment at last year’s StellarXplorers competition, when he alluded to the future of our country’s newest military branch.

“Creating an enduring advantage in space is not just about the spacecraft, it requires a robust pipeline of young talent,” General Raymond said. “We need space professionals to ensure our nation can innovate at speed and create the next novel idea to achieve our enduring interest in space. … The Space Force encourages space-centric STEM programs to ensure we are both developing STEM skills and educating our youth on the critical role space plays in our daily lives.