AOPA Convenes First High School Aviation Symposium
October 6, 2015
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  • It’s a technological world out there. Across the education landscape, school curricula designed to emphasize STEM education—science, technology, engineering, and math—are up and running, preparing students for the workplaces of their future.

    The aviation industry is experiencing shortages of pilots, aerospace engineers, air traffic controllers, and more, all of which leads to unmatched career paths for young people that can put STEM skills to exciting, practical use. That is why AOPA is inviting school administrators, guidance counselors, and aviation program directors to attend the first symposium of the AOPA Aviation Education Leadership Alliance, a daylong event to take place Nov. 9 at the Aerospace Center for Excellence in Lakeland, Florida.

    “Aviation is a perfect fit for STEM, and a great way to help young people discover all the fun and excitement of aviation,” wrote Baker in his President’s Position column in the September 2015 edition of AOPA Pilot magazine. “That’s why we’ve created the AOPA High School Aviation Initiative—a brand-new program that takes a three-tier approach to strengthening aviation education in high school STEM programs.”

    Baker and Stephanie Kenyon, AOPA Foundation vice president of development and communications, will present at the symposium, explaining why aviation belongs in a high school STEM curriculum. Participants also will hear from Patrick Cwayna, CEO of the West Michigan Aviation Academy—the high school “where attitude meets altitude.”

    A tour of the Central Florida Aerospace Academy, in Lakeland, will follow from the chairman of its foundation, Rick Garcia, and its principal, Keith Smith.

    The luncheon will feature a keynote address by Barrington Irving, a pilot, educator, and the 2012 National Geographic Emerging Explorer. Irving flew solo around the world in a custom-built Columbia 400 in 2007. He is a speaker and a passionate aviation advocate who has ignited the aspirations and enthusiasm of many students through his nonprofit organization, Experience Aviation.

    The afternoon session will focus on how to launch a high school aviation education program with speakers, panel discussions, interactive activities, and a chance for participants to do some end-of-the-day networking.

    The symposium is but one component of a larger effort to pair the joy and career opportunities of aviation with STEM in high school programs.

    AOPA research conducted in the fall of 2014 indicated that nationwide, there are 240 high schools or other educational programs that include aviation in STEM-based education programs. The three-tier approach cited by Baker emerged from a survey of those institutions that revealed that “their greatest struggles are with funding, resources, time, awareness, location, and logistics.”

    One tier is the AOPA National Aviation High School Leadership Alliance, whose charter members will be aviation high school principals, CEOs, program leaders, and guidance counselors. They will meet once each year at an aviation high school for opportunities to learn firsthand about aviation education programs, curricula, and formats. The first meeting will take place at the Nov. 9 symposium.

    AOPA also identified the need to form a national high school career club network to provide opportunities for students to explore careers in aviation and aerospace. Once the club network is established, a teen leadership board elected by aviation career club chapters across the country will expand the program’s national reach. Leadership board members will be invited to spend one summer week at AOPA Headquarters in Frederick, Maryland. They will participate in field trips that may include a visit to Capitol Hill with AOPA government affairs staff, FAA headquarters, and the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, all with the goal of developing the next generation of strong advocates for general aviation

    The third element of the AOPA High School Aviation Initiative is to create a booster program to help provide the funds aviation STEM programs need to deliver top-quality educational experiences. Support will be provided through start-up grants for new aviation programs; sustainability grants for existing programs; flight training scholarships for teachers and students; and funds for purchasing equipment such as flight simulators, and more. The boosters will also make possible “teach the teachers” workshops to help high school science teachers better understand aviation.

    To sharpen the focus, Baker said, AOPA has formed a steering committee that includes respected leaders from across the spectrum of aviation and aerospace education, including “aeronautical science professors, the Civil Air Patrol, NASA, the FAA, principals and CEOs of aviation secondary schools, airline representatives, and high school program leaders.”

    The registration cost is $50 for the symposium at the Aerospace Center for Excellence, on the Sun ‘n Fun Convention Campus, located at 4175 Medulla Road, Lakeland, Florida 33811. Register or sign up to receive more information including the symposium agenda, a list of steering committee members, and more information about the AOPA High School Aviation Initiative, or contact the program by email.