During January, I posted here in my blog a piece entitled “Kentucky Is Serious About Aviation Education”. I posted another in May about “Youth Interest in Aviation Careers”. If you haven’t read these, you may want to look them over. This is another follow-up that I believe is very encouraging. I hope you will agree.
The Kentucky Institute for Aerospace Education has now grown its reach into high schools in The Commonwealth to 23 school districts. Inquiries about how to replicate it’s aviation based STEM curriculum programs beyond the borders of Kentucky has prompted the KIAE Board of Directors to begin offering assistance to school systems in other states. At a recent Board meeting the KIAE became The Institute for Aerospace Education (TIAE) and began migrating into the neighboring state of Tennessee. Tennessee was selected because it is nearby, has a robust aviation industry and an excellent general aviation airports infrastructure. An active and engaged general aviation airport is a critical part of establishing a successful accredited aviation program in any high school curriculum. The airport serves as an “aviation learning laboratory” to provide flight training, an introduction to aviation maintenance technology, airport management and more. This hands-on approach dramatically improves student learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) while, at the same time, creating career pathways into aviation. Students can transition into college and/or career readiness programs.
The Institute for Aerospace Education also has agreements institutions of higher learning that offer aviation and aerospace degree programs allowing students to receive college credit for their studies. This link with colleges, universities and technical schools also connects the students with these institutions for advancing their education.
In June, TIAE CEO Dr. Tim Smith and I began introducing the program to teachers who were attending Tennessee’s Teacher’s Aerospace Education Workshop at Middle Tennessee State University. In July, we spoke to another teacher’s workshop at The University of Tennessee. These extraordinary workshops, now 55 years old, are the oldest program of their type in the nation. During the 2-week “camp” teachers learn how to incorporate aviation into lesson plans to aid the learning process in grades K-12 while earning CE credit. Those who are high school teachers can be perfect potential “facilitators” for the aviation based STEM programs offered through the Institute and I found them to be a great resource for spreading the word about AOPA’s “AV8RS” program.
We are all trying to find ways to increase the pilot population and to attract to aviation careers, the next generation of pilots, aviation maintenance technicians, air traffic controllers, engineers and managers. Aviation is a proven learning catalyst with youngsters and this program is a great way to expose them to a potentially rewarding career. Already we are seeing success: a young man who will graduate from high school with certification as an Aircraft Maintenance Technician, numerous high school age pilots, many of whom are young women. Local airports are involved; flight schools are finding a new source of students right in their own back yard, hangars are becoming classrooms where teens are helping restore and maintain airplanes. I am seeing these kids learning to fly and earning a Private ticket, building model aircraft, welding, turning wrenches, timing ignition systems, and practicing approaches on a flight simulator. They are loving it and I am encouraged about the future of aviation because of it.
There are other outstanding aviation education programs in the Southern Region that are making a huge contribution. The Central Florida Aerospace Academy in Polk County (Lakeland), one of a number of “Polk Academies” providing college and career pathways. Sun n Fun, Inc., earlier this year, committed to year around aviation educational programs and events, headed up by a nationally certified STEM Educator, Lori Bradner. It seems like every day I learn more about youth oriented aviation programs in Florida and flight training in the Sunshine State is experiencing new life and growing.
I find all of this very encouraging. If you know of an aviation education program in the Southern Region, I hope you will share it with us. I want to continue exploring how AOPA can encourage and support these programs.