Lt. Col. Mary Albright, Minnesota Wing
Posted on January 24, 2023 at 11:43 AM by Virginia Smith
Lt. Col. Mary Albright, AEO of NCR-MN-021, enjoys leading cadets in the StellarXplorers competition. She is also Director of Cadet Programs for Minnesota Wing.
January 24, 2023
Meet Lt. Col. Mary Albright, Aerospace Education Officer with Anoka County Composite Squadron (NCR-MN-021) in the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. She is also Minnesota Wing Director of Cadet Programs along with holding other duty positions within the squadron. She found Civil Air Patrol when her daughter mentioned an interest in astronomy and flying more than 12 years ago. And her daughter's involvement led to her own involvement. She started as a testing officer, but soon began wearing several "duty hats," she recalls. After a cadet leadership role as Deputy Commander for Cadets, she took on responsibility in AE. "Aerospace Education and STEM are so important – especially with interactive learning classes. So, I wanted to take a more active role integrating these two areas -- Cadet Programs and Aerospace Education -- together for the greatest impact." She enjoys leading the cadets in StellarXplorers and CyberPatriot competitions, Air and Space Forces Association's national STEM competitions. With the Anoka County squadron, she has established a culture in which the cadets are encouraged to be innovative, and it has paid off. "Some of our most recent cutting-edge achievements include fielding a team for the High-Altitude Balloon Challenge and being selected as one of the few teams worldwide to participate in the Great Lunar Expedition for Everyone (GLEE) organized by the Colorado Space Grant Consortium. Through GLEE, we are programming a LunaSat that will be on a future Lunar space mission." We asked her some questions about her career in Civil Air Patrol, and her answers follow.
Tell us about your duty positions with CAP.
Duty positions with Anoka County Composite Squadron NCR-MN-021: Aerospace Education Officer, Deputy Commander for Cadets, Assistant Education & Training Officer and Assistant Public Affairs Officer. I am also the Minnesota Wing Director of Cadet Programs.
Tell us about your squadron.
Anoka County Composite Squadron has the largest cadet program in the North Central Region, currently at 94 cadets on the roster. We are based in the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities in Minnesota but have cadet members that drive from as far as 35 miles to participate in our unit. In particular, we are leaders in all things Aerospace Education and STEM.
How did you get involved in Civil Air Patrol?
I didn’t intend to join as a senior member. We were looking for something for my daughter to be involved in and nothing was really clicking. We tried Girl Scouts and 4H. When I asked her what she was interested in, she said, “I don’t know. Maybe astronomy and flying?” I thought, “Great, where do
Lt. Col. Albright has been a CAP member since 2010.
we even find out who does that stuff.”
Then one of my son’s friends mentioned he was joining the Navy Sea Cadets. In my head, I connected the dots this way: “The Navy has sea cadets … in Minnesota. I wonder if the Air Force has something?” Googling resulted in this thing called the Civil Air Patrol, and as luck would have it, there was a squadron 3 miles from us. We went, and she loved it.
Like all 13-year-olds, they have to be driven everywhere. So, I drove and stayed at the meeting. As I was watching the unit at that time, I felt like they could use me. So, I went up to the commander at the time and said, “I think you need me. I’d like to be your Deputy Commander for Cadets.” She said I could join and start out with something easy like Testing Officer. So, I joined and that was over 12 years ago.
How many years have you been in Civil Air Patrol? Tell us about your CAP career path that led to your current role.
I joined Civil Air Patrol in October 2010. I started as Testing Officer, but soon after, I became one that wears many duty hats. I became the Deputy Commander for Cadets and then after the first tour, I served as Professional Development (now Education & Training) Officer. I was asked to return to the Deputy Commander for Cadets to reboot the program. I added in the Aerospace Education Officer position because I knew to have a robust Cadet Program, we need to have more interactive and engaging content. Aerospace Education and STEM are so important – especially with interactive learning classes. So, I wanted to take a more active role integrating these two areas -- Cadet Programs and Aerospace Education -- together for the greatest impact.
Around that same time, I had cadets asking if they could have a CyberPatriot team. I told the most persistent that if he got four cadets together, I’d form a team. Anoka is in its 10th year with CyberPatriot.
I heard about StellarXplorers and was very excited! I love Star Wars and Star Trek. I’m an equal opportunity space geek. And by getting in on the first few years of StellarX, I thought we could have a chance at being National Finalists. Who doesn’t want to have that kind of fun? I shared that with the cadets, and they jumped right in. Anoka has been National Semifinalists six consecutive years. And for StellarXplorers V, we were National Finalists.
My position on Civil Air Patrol and trying new things for our cadets is, unless the cadets suggest something dangerous, I’m probably going to say "YES." Giving them that freedom to suggest new ideas has led to many of the innovations Anoka has experienced and achieved.
Some of our most recent cutting-edge achievements include fielding a team for the High-Altitude Balloon Challenge and being selected as one of the few teams worldwide to participate in the Great Lunar Expedition for Everyone (GLEE) organized by the Colorado Space Grant Consortium. Through GLEE, we are programming a LunaSat that will be on a future Lunar space mission.
Because we had been so successful, in 2021, I was asked to assume the role of Minnesota Wing Director of Cadet Programs. One of my goals was to raise awareness about STEM competitions and badge programs. Minnesota Wing had 14 teams compete in CyberPatriot this year, and we hosted two STEM Badge days to help cadets earn hours.
Is there anything else about your aerospace education background (including awards and recognition) that you'd like to include, within and outside of CAP.
I studied Geological Engineering in college but have been a multi-passionate entrepreneur most of my working career. I’m a past NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador and have been selected for multiple launch and media events with NASA Social. I’m a recipient of the Air & Space Forces Association Award for senior members. I hold a Master Rating in the Aerospace Education Specialty Track with CAP. I’m the founder and board chair of the Starbird Association, a 501c3 nonprofit organization that promotes aerospace education and STEM in the state of Minnesota.
Tell us about your career outside of Civil Air Patrol. How long have you been in this field and why did you choose it?
I founded a boutique consulting practice in 2009. I am a fractional director of operations supporting micro and small business owners by leveraging technology to help them run their businesses efficiently. I also provide individual and team coaching in personal branding, leadership and communications as one of less than 60 Certified Fascinate Coaches worldwide.
Within CAP, why do you work in the Aerospace Education mission area? Why do you encourage youth in the Aerospace Education area?
Aerospace Education and STEM is exciting. I studied engineering in the 1990s, and even then, there was a shortage in the STEM space. It’s 2023 and we still don’t have enough young people learning in these careers – careers that are vital to society now and the future. I spend time and energy in this mission because I know it’s fun and exciting. Not everyone gets that enthusiasm at home or school. I try to share the opportunities and excitement to help cadets see what’s possible and that Aerospace Education and STEM are in their reach. Everything is figureoutable! If you can dream it, you can do it! Removing those barriers of fear, that it’s “too hard” is important. My goal and vision have always been to make it fun and interactive so the cadets will have fun, too.
What is the best CAP experience you have had since joining the organization?
Outside of seeing my own cadet earn the Spaatz Award, the most impactful experience I had was representing CAP as an IACE escort to New Zealand. Being able to interact with Air Cadet programs from other countries was amazing.
Anoka's Facebook page posts chronicle many of your squadron's achievements and activities. Can you please describe some of the favorite activities of the cadets over your time as AEO?
So many options!
Aerospace Lock In and Amazing Space Race. My cadet and I created a series of obstacles called the Amazing Space Race (modeled after the reality show). Teams of 2 solved aerospace and aviation challenges in stations in a competition format.
Field trips to Jackson Observatory with Astronomer Ron Schmit. Learning about the starscape and using the gravity well model. We have a great relationship with Ron, and he always loves having our group.
Hydraulic Engineer STEM Kit. The best STEM Kit ever! Cadets love this and it’s incredibly interactive
Rocketry Badge Program. Cadets love to learn about, build and launch rockets! Families love to watch the launches. It makes for a fun event!
StellarXplorers competition season. I love this competition. The entire season, the cadets on the team really get to know each other and have fun during the really tough and brain-draining competitions. I’m a huge proponent of helping more youth exploring space industry careers. This program deserves more spotlight time than it receives.
Goddard Rocket Golf Course. Cadets make Goddard Rockets out of pipe foam insulation. We set up “golf holes” with hula hoops around the building and then in foursomes, the cadets went to each hole and tried to hit a “hole in one.” Each hole also had a fun rocket fact posted by the “tee.”
Tell us about any other Civil Air Patrol aerospace education programs you use internally and externally.
Rocketry Badge Program
STEM Badge Program
Cyber Badge Program
We always apply for and complete AEX every year.
If you are doing what you are supposed to be doing with the Cadet Program, AEX is simply documenting and reporting your work.
In the last fiscal year, Anoka was an AE Unit of Excellence
What is the best advice you have for a new AE Officer working with cadets?
Jump in and be enthusiastic! If you have an AE savvy cadet that can teach classes, utilize that cadet. If you don’t, be that person that jumps in to have interactive classes to build excitement for AE and STEM. You don’t have to know everything; be willing to do the work and find the right resources to be successful.
Do you have any suggestions for how to conduct outreach in schools (working with students and/or recruiting AEMs)?
Everyone’s communities are different. I’ve had the most success connecting with middle school leadership to have an info table during Back-to-School open house nights.
Please tell an anecdote of a rewarding experience working with cadets and/or students or teachers:
The first time we used the Hydraulic Engineering STEM kit was incredibly exhilarating. The cadets were working in small groups, building these machines, and the energy was off the charts. It was the very first STEM kit I ever requested for our cadets. They loved every minute of it. I feel it truly cemented our unit’s yen for more STEM that exists to this day.
Anoka County Composite Squadron cadets participate in AE activities.