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Air Force seeks tech help from students

NEW YORK — The Air Force, as part of its recruitment efforts, is approaching young people for help in solving real-world technological problems using a collaborative online platform.

The initiative, which will be introduced Thursday, will create a digital program called the Air Force Collaboratory, in which young people will be challenged to develop technologies for search-and-rescue operations in collapsed structures; to create software code for a quadrotor, a type of unmanned, aerial vehicle; and to determine where to place the newest GPS satellite.

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The Air Force hopes the program will attract students in so-called STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — to work with its service members on developing solutions for the three challenges, and, ideally, consider enlisting.

The initiative — which the Air Force will promote through digital advertising, social media, and partnerships with groups like Discovery Education — is the latest recruiting effort created for the Air Force by GSD&M, an agency in Austin, Texas, that is part of Omnicom Group.

GSD&M has been the Air Force’s agency since 2001, developing campaigns to help it attract the more than 28,000 recruits it needs annually; the agency said its work had helped the Air Force meet its recruiting goals each year.

GSD&M’s recruiting strategy for the Air Force — which has always sought tech-savvy candidates — previously featured an “Airman Challenge” online video game. A separate campaign included television spots whose theme was: “It’s not science fiction.”

Colonel Marcus Johnson, chief of the strategic marketing division of the Air Force Recruiting Service, said the Air Force focused on “going after the best and brightest young men and women, with an emphasis on the STEM subjects. Whether they’re in high school or college, those topics translate into what we do in the Air Force.”

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He said the collaboratory program was meant to appeal to men and women ages 16 to 24, including high school students still determining their future.

Ryan Carroll, a creative director at GSD&M, said the Air Force was “very much like the Apples and Googles of the world in recognizing the huge need for scientists and engineers. They reach out to kids at an early age and show them the amazing things they can do with science and technology.”

He pointed to initiatives like the Google Science Fair, an online, annual, global science competition for teenagers, as an example.

Similarly, the collaboratory program aims to “inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, technologists, and mathematicians, and to show them all the amazing, science-related things the Air Force does,” Carroll said.

The program will also allow students to “participate and solve real problems the Air Force solves every day,” he added.

Young people will be able to learn more about the initiative’s challenges at the website airforce.com/collaboratory, which will act as a forum. Challenge participants will be able to use custom-built tools to share ideas and work with airmen and other experts to develop solutions.

Not surprisingly, digital media will primarily be used to promote the program. Custom editorial content is being developed for the STEM hub of Good.com, a global community of “pragmatic idealists,” while custom videos are being filmed for DNews, an online video series from Discovery Communications.

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