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Maj. Carl Knox, Oregon squadron's STEM teams director, credits cadets' work, values for teams' success

Posted on 11/10/2021 at 04:00 PM by Virginia Smith

Major Knox speaks to cadets in the squadron room

Maj. Carl Knox has been a CAP member since 2004 and serves in Oregon's Aurora Composite squadron.

November 10, 2021

Meet Maj. Carl Knox of Oregon Wing's Aurora Composite Squadron. He joined Civil Air Patrol in 2004 in order to help his son's squadron. In the past 17 years, he has filled numerous roles but always where he sees a need. One of those areas is as the STEM Competition Teams Director of his squadron. The Aurora team was named champion last spring in the nationwide StellarXplorers high school STEM competition, which marked a first for Civil Air Patrol. The competition, sponsored by the Air Force Association (AFA), required teams to compete in a test of designing orbits, selecting spacecraft components and designating a launch vehicle to meet a specific mission scenario. The Aurora Composite team has reached the StellarXplorers finals four times in five years. The eventual first place finish, he says, was the result of lessons learned in previous years. He attributes the success to the cadets. "I directed these teams, but I was not selected. It was the teams. Their hard work, dedication and adherence to our core values allowed them to rise above the competition." Maj. Knox's other duties include Wing Testing Officer, Character Development Instructor, Squadron Leadership Officer and an assistant Aerospace Education Officer (AEO). He also directs the squadron's team for another national AFA youth STEM competition, CyberPatriot. "Both competitions strengthen problem-solving and teamwork skills," he says. "One season shows team members what they are capable of accomplishing." We asked him some questions about the STEM teams he directs and his Civil Air Patrol journey. His answers follow.

Please list your current duties.

I serve as Wing Testing Officer, Character Development Instructor, Squadron Leadership Officer and an assistant Aerospace Education Officer (AEO). My previous duties include Wing IT Officer and Wing Director of Professional Development

How and when did you get involved in Civil Air Patrol?

My son joined, and the squadron asked for volunteers to file papers. That was in 2004. 

Tell us about your CAP career path that led to your current roles.

For 17 years, I have filled in positions that were needed. There tends to be more work than there are people to complete it. I have found the CAP regs and pamphlets to be invaluable to my progress and ability to complete projects. Most of my questions have been answered in those texts.

Tell us about the experience directing the StellarXplorers team. What were the team’s keys to success? What was it like for the cadets and leaders to win the competition?

My squadron commander asked if I would take on the Stellars team as I was already working with CyberPatriot. Directing, as opposed to coaching, was an incentive. The team members had no idea what was going on. We were all surprised when we made it to the finals. The first year, the finals overwhelmed them. The second year, the team did not work as a team. The third year was the year of the lesson. That was the year the team learned that one low score can take you out of the running. I think several teams learned that lesson. On our fourth year, the team was a true team. They worked together well and got second place. We feel we would have been the champions that year if the finals had taken place.

We were very surprised that we had won last year. We had hoped for third, and when we did not get that or second, we waited to see who won. I have to admit, when she said, “From Portland, Oregon," I thought, “I did not know know there was another Stellars team in Portland?” We had the same team members for the last two years. They were cadet officers who were juniors and seniors in school and very intelligent young men. As an example, the team captain graduated this year from high school, graduated from college with a bachelor of science degree and topped it off with the Spaatz award. He is currently pursuing an advanced degree. Because we do not live near each other, most of our practices took place virtually. This was several years before the pandemic. So, not being able to meet physically did not present the same problems for us. The keys to the team’s success include not relying on another team member to come up with answers, a genuine team ethic, the right equipment, positive attitudes, and every member of the team is a professing Christian.

Why are the StellarXplorers and CyberPatriot programs important for STEM education for youth?

Both competitions strengthen problem-solving and teamwork skills. One season shows team members what they are capable of accomplishing.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your Civil Air Patrol experience?

If you stay in the program long enough, you get to see the cadets arc. Our squadron has had cadets enlist, go to college, enter the service academies and ROTC. They have become pilots, cyber security professionals, and/or parents. Most of all, they are assets to their communities. The truly great thing is, they come back to visit. They are even willing to meet with us virtually. Years ago, I had a cadet join the National Guard when he turned 17. He went to Afghanistan and was severely wounded at 19. He was hospitalized for a year. I tried to contact him but was unable to connect. Fourteen years later while delivering a 10-year-old Earhart certificate to a former cadet, I finally found him. He spoke to my squadron during a virtual meeting. It was riveting.

Tell us about your career outside of Civil Air Patrol. Why did you choose this career?

I provide technical support to non-profits and senior citizens. The agencies include churches, labor unions and service organizations. The seniors I work with are usually older than 70. I have several clients who are close to 100. My primary work involves setting up new equipment, troubleshooting issues and helping users understand that it is not as bad as it seems. At times, I am met with a great deal of anxiety. Respect, integrity and excellence help me complete this work.

Why do you work in the Aerospace Education mission area and encourage youth in AE/STEM?

I like the hands-on aspect AE. There is always something new to learn, including a new way to do things. 

Tell us about any Civil Air Patrol AE Programs you use internally and externally.

We use STEM kits and complete AEX yearly. Our wing has the Oregon Wing AE Unit of Merit Award, which is internal. We received it this year.

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

Do not work alone. Get a partner/mentor. If you cannot get help within your squadron, reach out to other squadrons or the wing director of AE. 

Please tell an anecdote of a rewarding experience working with cadets and/or students or teachers.

In 2018, my Stellars team did not make it to the finals. That was the year CAP was invited to JROTC Leadership and Academic Bowl (JLAB) in DC. I had been asked to direct the team. Several members of the Stellars team came on board and practiced Jeopardy-style SAT question format. After extensive fundraising, the team went to DC to compete against JROTC and CAP teams. Our team made it to the CAP finals and finished as champions. It was hard work, and they were very happy when it was over. It would have been difficult if the Stellars had made it to the finals.

Is there anything else that we didn’t ask that you’d like to add for this spotlight on an AE Officer? 

If six years ago, I had been told that making it to national finals in various high school age competitions is possible, I would have replied, “That’s not true.” But, teams from my squadron have been selected to attend finals every year for the past 5 years. I directed these teams, but I was not selected. It was the teams. Their hard work, dedication and adherence to our core values allowed them to rise above the competition. It was amazing to see them grasp the concepts that were so foreign just a year ago. That makes this worthwhile.

I am grateful for the opportunities CAP provides to all its members.

Cadets working in the squadron room
Aurora Composite Squadron cadets at work.

 

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