High school juniors and seniors recently traveled from all over Idaho to attend Aero Camp, a two-week program at North Idaho College’s Aerospace Center of Excellence. Though they have different goals — manufacturing, air traffic control, piloting — they’ve all come to NIC to explore their chosen path through aerospace technology.
Students take a condensed aerospace composites course, studying the practice of using two or more materials in conjunction to make a stronger material. Aero Camp students work mostly with fiberglass and carbon fiber to finish a variety of projects.
Jadzia Graves, of Kuna, also attended Aero Camp last summer.
“It’s the first thing I’ve ever done that no one in my family had done before,” she said. “It was completely new, and it was something I could jump into. I loved it so much I asked if I could come back.”
This year, she’s refreshing and refining the skills she learned the first time around, and picking up a few new skills, as well. She’s working on an access panel, like that which would be used on a real plane, and an I-beam.
Graves plans to become an air traffic controller. Studying aerospace technology, she said, is a good foot in the door — and in the future, it’ll leave the door open for other opportunities. She said she would like to go into engineering someday — perhaps aerospace engineering.
A fairly new program, Aerospace Technology rolled out in fall 2013. Students can earn an AAS degree in Aerospace Advanced Manufacturing after earning shorter-term certificates is Composite Technology and CNC Mill Operation. The Aerospace Center for Excellence also offers an Aviation Maintenance program that was not part of the camp.
PTECH (Pathways to Early Career High Schools) makes these courses more accessible at the high school level, for dual-enrolled students. In fact, all Aero Camp students already have Aero-120 (Introduction to Composites) under their belt, credits during the intensive camp.
“They get to explore this early,” said Patrick O’Halloran, NIC Aerospace Division chair and director. “It gets them thinking about aerospace, learning about the industry in our own state. We have a couple of students who came to the camp last summer and are coming to [NIC] for aerospace in the fall.”
It’s not all labs and lectures, though — the students are also sampling some of Coeur d’Alene’s unique offerings, such as sailing on the lake and exploring downtown.
“It’s better than the high desert,” said Tim Gladhill, of Kuna.
Tanner Andersen, of Medimont, wasn’t totally sold on aerospace technology before coming to Aero Camp, but he’s found himself engaged in the material and appreciating the physical nature of the projects.
“I’m having a lot of fun. Today, I didn’t even want to eat lunch, I just wanted to work,” he said, laughing. “I’m kind of a visual learner, so to be able to come here and do this instead of just reading about it on a screen means I understand it much better.”
Aero Camp is a unique opportunity for high school students to explore careers in the aerospace industry.
“You not only get to learn about this aerospace stuff, you make friendships with people you don’t even know,” said Baylee Leetch, of Wallace, who plans to be a pilot. “Not many people get a chance to do this. If you get a chance, definitely take it.”
For more information on the NIC Aerospace Center of Excellence, call (208) 625-2344.