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Educating Students About Aerospace Careers

By Debra Shapiro

Posted on 2019-09-03

Students in William Ervin’s aerospace class at Dubiski Career High School in Grand Prairie, Texas, gather around the flight simulator used in the class.

Cindy Hasselbring reads from the Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook report: “804,000 new civil aviation pilots, 769,000 new maintenance technicians, and 914,000 new cabin crew will be needed to fly and maintain the world fleet over the next 20 years.” She adds, “212,000 pilots are needed for North America alone. 193,000 maintenance technicians are needed for North America alone…There’s a good opportunity for students to pursue aviation jobs. A student can start at a regional airline at $60,000 a year.”

Hasselbring, senior director of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) High School Aviation Initiative, says AOPA offers a high school aviation STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) curriculum that “is free to high schools…, and provides two career pathways: pilot and drones [Unmanned Aircraft Systems or UAS].”

At age 16, “students can take the [Federal Aviation Association (FAA)] Private Pilot Knowledge Test or Unmanned Aircraft Systems Part 107 Remote Pilot Knowledge Test. Those who pass the UAS test can start a business piloting [drones]. They can work for many employers because they can legally fly a drone,” says Hasselbring.

Some students take the courses “just to learn something new and different. Then they realize they want to be pilots. That’s why the curriculum is used as in-school courses only, to hook in students who may not have considered those careers before. They’re not as likely to choose the courses as an after-school club,” she asserts.

“The curriculum supports the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core, and a lot of engineering practices are embedded. [It challenges] students with projects like testing foam board airfoils in a cardboard wind tunnel and modifying their designs,” as the Wright Brothers did in the wind tunnel they built, she observes.

“Students also learn about the NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board], and how they investigate accidents. [In one activity,] students are members of a Go Team investigating what caused an accident and what the recommendations of the NTSB should be,” Hasselbring notes.“The ninth- and 10th-grade curriculum will be available this fall. The 11th-grade curriculum will be available next year. By 2021, all four years [of the curriculum] will be available,” Hasselbring notes. “Schools must go through the application process in the fall” to receive the curriculum, she adds.

To use the curriculum, teachers must attend a three-day professional development workshop. “In-person attendance costs $200 and includes the opportunity to participate in hands-on activities and take a free flight in a small aircraft,” Hasselbring explains. Teachers can attend online at no charge.

“Last year, AOPA offered, for the first time, a Teacher Scholarship program that pays for flight training so teachers can become pilots. We gave 20 teachers $10,000 each. We hope to offer that again,” she reports. William Ervin, aerospace teacher at Dubiski Career High School in Grand Prairie, Texas, has used a variety of aerospace and aviation resources, including AOPA’s. “We use the AOPA curriculum [as a] pilot school. We teach and evaluate the curriculum,” he explains. He also has adapted the AOPA curriculum for his 11th and 12th graders and will be evaluating the 11th-grade AOPA curriculum this school year.

Last year, Ervin wrote Introduction to Aerospace and Aviation, a Career and Technical Education (CTE) innovative course for grades 9–11 that was approved by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). “Innovative courses allow districts to offer state-approved innovative courses to enable students to master knowledge, skills, and competencies not included in the essential knowledge and skills of the required curriculum,” according to the TEA website. Ervin’s course provides “the foundation for advanced exploration in the areas of professional pilot, aerospace engineering, and [UAS],” he explains.
Ervin notes TEA has “a bank of innovative courses” teachers can access. (See He is currently developing a 10th-grade innovative course based on AOPA’s curriculum.

Manufacturing Aircraft

In the Utah Aerospace Pathways (UAP; program, high school students take aerospace manufacturing training courses at their schools and at local technical or community colleges. Students then have an externship with one of UAP’s participating companies during senior year and graduate with a certificate in aerospace manufacturing. “Industry partner companies (Boeing, Janicki, Hexcel, Albany Engineered Composites, Orbital ATK, Kihomac) joined with Hill Air Force Base [located near Ogden, Utah] because they felt the need to build their workforce and training,” says Sandra Hemmert, CTE Specialist for Granite School District in Salt Lake City, Utah. UAP was created “to help students gain skills for industry and college,” Hemmert maintains.

UAP was the start of Talent Ready Utah, an initiative of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the Utah Department of Workforce Services. “It is an amazing partnership of government agencies, industry, and education,” Hemmert observes. Usually it takes two years to develop new high school courses, but “within six months, [UAP] had four new courses. Everything moved faster to address the needs of the industry partners,” she contends.

“The industry partners developed a skills list that was used as the basis of the state standards,” says Hemmert. “To create the curriculum, we had 12 teachers who did a two-week internship in all of the companies. We brought them in with company partners to develop the curriculum. Our teachers didn’t know anything about [composite materials], but the industry partners had an idea about how to get kids excited [about learning]: doing hands-on activities with them.”

UAP was piloted in two school districts—Granite and Davis, in Farmington— and has since expanded to four more Utah school districts. Salt Lake Community College and Davis Technical College in Kaysville are the original UAP partner colleges.

“Students are guaranteed an interview with any of the participating companies after earning the certificate,” says Hemmert. “Students can apply to any of the companies…If one company can’t hire a student, it will support [the student in obtaining a job] with the other companies,” she contends. Students can earn as much as $19 per hour right after high school.

“We have kids who do something else for two years, but they can still have the interview if they have earned the certificate. Some kids go to college and say, ‘It isn’t for me,’ but the certificate gives them a job opportunity. If they decide to attend college, the companies [reimburse] tuition…for employees…A lot of kids are going to college to become engineers and also working for a company to get their tuition reimbursed,” Hemmert relates.

“In addition, the program [educates students about] jobs they didn’t know about. There are so many jobs in aerospace manufacturing,” she asserts.

This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of NSTA Reports, the member newspaper of the National Science Teachers Association. Each month, NSTA members receive NSTA Reports, featuring news on science education, the association, and more. Not a member? Learn how NSTA can help you become the best science teacher you can be.

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