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Washington Wing DAE Maj. Sylvie Kacmarcik stresses cyber education

Posted on November 5, 2020 at 5:24 PM by Virginia Smith

Maj. Kacmarcik explains renewable energy to cadets
Participants of Washington All Mission Academy listen to Maj. Sylvie Kacmarcik explain renewable energy.

November 4, 2020

Meet Dr. Sylvie Kacmarcik, a CAP Major and Washington Wing DAE, who was raised in France as the daughter of a former French Air Force Chief Sergeant. She first came to Civil Air Patrol as an Aerospace Education Member and, at her son's encouragement, transitioned to a senior membership in 2017. Cybersecurity is a special interest for her, and since she became an Aerospace Education Officer (AEO), she has worked with a squadron team in the Air Force Association's CyberPatriot program. This summer she organized the first Air Force Association (AFA) Washington Wing CyberCamps. The AFA program helps high school and middle school students who are just getting interested in cybersecurity or who have cybersecurity knowledge and want to learn more. "As we live in a digital society," she says, "I believe that it is important for everyone to learn about cyber safety, etiquette, ethics and security, and I strongly encourage all AEOs to support their cadets in their cyber education." Outside of CAP, she teaches Earth sciences at Shoreline Community College in Seattle and instructs elementary teachers in sciences, mathematics and computer science. We asked her some questions about her life and CAP career. Her answers follow:

Current duty positions:

  • Washington Wing Director of Aerospace Education
  • Washington Wing CyberPatriot Coordinator
  • Washington Wing Green Darner Cyber Education Camp Director and Instructor
  • Aerospace, STEM and Cyber Education Officer of the Washington All Mission Academy

Tell us about how you became a CAP member and the career path that led to your current role.

As the daughter of a former French Air Force Chief Sergeant, I was raised near military jets and the Patrouille de France [precision aerobatics demonstration unit of the French Air Force]  practicing over our heads, and, of course, I dreamed of flying. I am now married to a 1980s Civil Air Patrol Cadet alumnus from the Ohio Wing, from whom I learned about CAP’s cadet programs. Once my son became a teenager, he joined the Paine Field Composite Squadron in Everett, Washington, to explore his love for aerospace and flying. As he progressed through his early stages of the life of a CAP cadet, I learned about all of CAP’s missions and programs. A few months after my son joined, I joined Civil Air Patrol as an Aerospace Education Member (AEM) to explore CAP’s aerospace education programs and their potential uses for the Pre-K through 12 classrooms. Then, under my son’s insistence, early summer 2017, I joined as a full member and became his squadron’s Aerospace Education Officer (AEO) and CyberPatriot Coach. Summer 2018, I took on the additional duty of Aerospace, STEM and Cyber Education Officer for the Washington All Mission Academy. WAMA is a monthly wing level weekend-long activity for seniors and cadets where AE is one of the training track options. After a couple of years of involvement with local AE internal and external programs, I applied for the Wing AEO External position to help promote our programs in the community, and especially to educators. I ended up becoming the next Washington Wing Director of Aerospace Education by request of the Pacific Region’s AE and the Washington Wing’s leadership.

Tell us about your career outside of CAP.

I was always the kid who loved school, and played “school” even at home. My dolls and stuffed animals did not play dress up, they got homework or went on field trips! I collected rocks, fossils, shells, leaves, flowers, bugs… So it was not a big surprise when I chose to study natural sciences at the university, then decided to specialize in Earth sciences. For my masters, my doctorate and my postdoctoral research, I worked on a project studying oxygen stable isotopes as climatic tracers in clay minerals found in tropical soils from the Amazonian Basin in Brazil. This project was a collaboration between my French university of Aix-Marseille and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where I met my husband. On the side of my research, I started teaching undergraduate students in Earth sciences. I have now been teaching for 30 years, and I love working with students and other teachers sharing my passion for learning and teaching. During my professional career as a scientist and an educator, I have had the opportunity to attend many science conferences, teacher workshops, and also to certify as a Montessori teacher for 0- to 12-year-old students. I have worked as a STEM specialist with children from 2 years old to high school age, in addition to teaching geology to college students. For the past 10 years, I also have been a faculty member of the Montessori Institute of Teacher Education at Spring Valley in Federal Way, Washington, where I instruct elementary Montessori teachers in sciences, mathematics and computer sciences. In addition to this instructor position, I am presently a part-time associate faculty member at Shoreline Community College in Seattle, Washington, where I teach Earth sciences.

Why do you serve in the Aerospace/STEM mission area?

From my background, it is obvious that I love learning and teaching, and as I have worked with many age groups, and in various environments, I have come to appreciate the diversity of a classroom and to enjoy the challenges that come with it. My first step is typically to figure out who is my audience so that I can better serve them. Personally, I love anything that is STEM-related, and with the French Air Force influence of my childhood, it was the opportunity to join and serve people with similar interests. Why choose another classroom? I love exposing people to new things and witnessing their reactions, as well as their “aha” or “eureka” moments when they finally understand something they were struggling with or that they were trying to figure out. My job is to prepare the environment, provide the tools, guide the students so they acquire the skills and knowledge through experience as much as possible. I follow an integrated approach with many hands-on activities, individual and group work, and adapting to the audience. As in the Montessori philosophy where we are to “follow the child,” my goal is to follow “the cadets” and their interests. Our cadets arrive to us already interested in aerospace. My job is to expose them to as many facets of this domain as possible so that they can find their niche, their passion, their career. Aerospace is one of the domains in expansion with a huge need for regular jobs as well as new jobs. The CAP AE programs allow cadets to discover not only a wealth of knowledge and skills that they can use in many professions, but also an awareness of the many possibilities that exist in the aerospace world.

You mention using the CAP Aerospace Education programs to help your cadets. Tell us more about how you use these programs both internally and externally (with AEMs).

As an instructor, I appreciate the amount of work spent to develop all the written materials provided by the CAP AE programs. The wealth of reference materials, as well as lessons, activities, workbooks, story books, classroom props, makes the life of an educator (be it a squadron AEO, a classroom teacher, a Scout leader, or a homeschooler) so much nicer. We do not need to reinvent the wheel; we just need to take the material and adapt it to our environment and its audience, and enhance it as we need or want to.

The ACE and the AEX programs that have lessons and activities presorted per age group helps teachers in their selection for their curriculum. The STEM kits are a gift for all educators, we all know that funds are always limited and we tend to spend our own personal money on our teaching activities. The access to these free STEM kits allows us to acquire quality equipment that can be reused multiple times with the exception of a few consumable items that will need replenishing. One STEM kit can help so many students!

I have had the opportunity to use a wide variety and a wide range of lessons and materials, and the students always ask for more. During our monthly weekend-long training sessions at WAMA, members participating in the AE track typically spend 10 to 12 hours together learning about a chosen topic and experiencing it through hands-on activities, during which CAP STEM kits play an important part. These sessions can take place in the classroom, on an airport, in a field, in the woods or anywhere we might need to go to learn. The participants are cadets and senior members who have expressed interest in the proposed topic. When the weekend starts, they are given a list of options and activities that they will choose from and explore together. “Class time” can include many things: mini-lectures or interactive presentations, bibliographic research, making timelines, building models, performing experiments, reading and analyzing data, presenting reports, playing educational games, discussing certain topics and more. All these activities will allow the students to acquire not only knowledge but also skills they need for school and for their future careers. Senior members are encouraged to participate to learn more about teaching and leading activities and also to have the opportunity to work and share their time and expertise outside of their units.

I think that it is also important to remember that all that is provided is there to help us carry out our mission and serve as a launching pad and a guiding trajectory for us to start and work from.

I will always remember the reaction of one of my group of WAMA cadets when we studied renewable energy and we went to visit a local dam: the Grand Coulee Dam. Prior to the visit, we had worked on the various ways of creating electrical energy, and we had studied electromagnetism and the dynamo. We had built an electromagnetic generator, and by moving the magnet relatively to the copper coil, we produced electricity that we measured with a multimeter. They were pretty excited that they created electricity so easily, and that they finally understood how it worked. So, imagine their reaction when they saw the gigantic electromagnet of the dam! It was a great weekend.

Do you have any suggestions for how best to conduct outreach in schools (working with students and recruiting AEMs)? 

As an educator, I encounter many other teachers through workshops, conferences, meetings or social events. So, I take advantage of all of these opportunities to share about CAP programs as I know how useful for them the programs can be and how much they can enhance their classroom curriculum. The other way to engage teachers is through contacting their school districts, their STEM associations and fairs, attending science days, being a guest speaker in their classrooms.

I have provided our AEOs with an updated list of the Title I schools of our state so that they could contact the ones local to them. But, the best way to spread the awareness is through our members, and especially our cadets who can share with their teachers what they do in their units as most of our materials is also available to them.

Many local schools, especially elementary schools organize science or STEM days, during which AEOs and pilots are welcome to attend and participate. It is the opportunity to show off our CAP uniforms and talk about what we love best. I always go with a mini-presentation about CAP and a couple of fun activities. They love the airport role-playing game where they get to line up in an orderly fashion like airplanes on the tarmac taxiing to take off, and waiting for the instructions of the Control Tower (me or a cadet). And for take off, they get to launch the paper airplanes they had created earlier.

In 2018-19, I had the opportunity to work for a few months with a group of three middle school teachers from the Seattle Public School District on a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) project as part of the Washington Alliance for Better Schools’ Instructional Leadership programs. This group chose to work on the problem of small UAS and the dangers they were causing to a local airport. They created a unit integrating many content areas and aligning with the Next Generation Science Standards. These teachers became CAP Aerospace Education Members, signed up for TOP flights, and requested quadcopter STEM kits to use in their classrooms as part of their unit. My cadet son and I visited their classrooms, where we made a brief presentation about CAP before doing some AE activities with them: dynamics of flying dragonfly spinning toy versus the dynamics of flying a flat popsicle stick glued on the tip of a chopstick; comparison with the propellers of the sUAS; propellers and directional flight in quadcopters; rules of flightline and airport safety while demonstrating sUAS in flight. We all had a great time!

What is the best advice you have for a new AE Officer working with cadets?

For a new AEO as well as any AEO starting with a new group, the first step I would advise is to get to know your audience: learn who your cadets are, how old they are, why they chose to join, and what they are interested in. Start your first unit with something they want to learn about so they can relate and connect better with you before enticing them toward things they might become interested in. Knowing their age will allow you to adjust your presentation and activity to their level of development: the younger they are, the more concrete and hands-on approach they will need.

I'll give an example of adapting presentations to the audience. A 12-year-old cannot abstractly imagine the relief of an area from looking at a topographic map. They will need to progressively acquire the skills; so start by doing hands-on activities demonstrating where the lines come from, how these maps are constructed. This can be done by creating 3D models sliced at the contour lines so the layers can be separated and drawn on a paper to create the topographic map. Make sure that the model has different slopes, so that you can show that the farther the contour lines are from each other, the gentler is the slope, and the tighter they are, the steeper the slope. Create different models to help them learn the different features they might encounter on a map. They will recognize the connections between the 3D and the 2D versions on their own as they practice. On the other hand, a typical 15- to 16-year-old cadet will be fine with a video and some good graphical representations, but they will still enjoy the hands-on activities and they will understand and master concepts faster.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there are different learning styles, and cadets will progress and learn at their own pace; so be patient and accommodating. Do not hesitate to reach out to your unit commander and the deputy commander of cadets to ask questions about your cadets, such as are there any special accommodations needed.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell us for this spotlight story on your work with CAP?

Since I joined the Civil Air Patrol as an AEO, I have coached and/or worked with CyberPatriot teams. This year will be my fourth year participating. This summer, we had our first series of Air Force Association CyberCamps (standard and advanced levels). Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we held the camps virtually, and we had 64 participants (52 cadets) from 16 wings, and 14 instructors and guest speakers (including four cadet instructors). It was a great learning experience for the students as well as for the staff.

As we live in a digital society, I believe that it is important for everyone to learn about cyber safety, etiquette, ethics, and security, and I strongly encourage all AEOs to support their cadets in their cyber education. For this purpose, I am working with the Western Washington University to use their Cyber Range to allow training of our Washington Wing members in a prepared environment and limiting technical problems [click here for more info]. We are also hoping that it will allow us to reach those members who might not have the latest technology. We are also looking forward to learning more about electronics, robotics and programming after the CyberPatriot Competition, starting in February 2021.

Maj. Kacmarcik poses in front of a CAP glider Portrait
Left, Maj. Sylvie Kacmarcik  poses after her first CAP glider flight.  


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