A nonprofit based in Virginia is willing to help teach local youth to fly.
It's all part of a strategy to increase interest in science, technology, engineering and math – otherwise known as STEM.
Fort Wayne Community Schools Career Academy announced in late May it was forming a partnership with STEM Flights to encourage students to pursue careers in select areas.
The nonprofit organization provides students with customized aviation education and flight experiences to provide STEM learning opportunities. Its mission is to create positive experiences in general aviation and inspire students to pursue careers in those fields – all at no cost to the schools or students, according to a news release.
“We are excited about this new opportunity for our students,” FWCS Superintendent Dr. Wendy Robinson said in a statement. “Increasing STEM offerings is one way we are preparing students for jobs of the future.”
Over the past decades, the United States has gradually lost its technological lead in the world, the FWCS news release said. The U.S. has fallen behind China and India, which graduate eight and five times the number of STEM students as the U.S., respectively, according to a 2017 Forbes article. Russia, ranked fourth, is also close to exceeding America's number of STEM graduates.
“The number of high-tech American jobs being outsourced each year is staggering,” said Dave Brubaker, a retired brigadier general of the U.S. Air Force and STEM Flights chairman. “We see the problem manifest itself in a current crisis with the number of pilots we produce. The Airlines and U.S. military are especially critically short on pilots and aircrews – a serious concern in an increasingly contentious world.”
The career training program starts online or in the classroom and continues into the aircraft cockpit with a customized mission designed to relate to specific STEM objectives.
The program partners with high schools or other education organizations to select candidates and design a mission that reflects the student's interests. Students are then matched with a volunteer pilot from the community for final mission planning and execution, including up to an hour of pre-flight instruction. Follow-up and feedback include critique, career guidance and resource assistance.
The training initiative relies on current pilots to volunteer as mentors, Carley Walker, director of marketing for the program. Pilots would use their own aircraft to teach the students or STEM Flights may coordinate a rental aircraft to fly the missions, depending on the level of donations to the program. A flight is one hour.
“If we could sign up 10 pilots willing to donate one STEM Flight Student mission a month, we could accomplish 120 missions each year,” Walker said through email.
STEM Flights was founded by retired Air Force fighter pilot Brubaker, who was born and raised in Fort Wayne and flew many years with the Indiana Air National Guard.
With the help of family and friends, the training program has also begun operations in central Virginia with plans to eventually make flights available throughout the country.
“We rely heavily on local communities for support. Individuals and companies who donate time, aircraft and/or financial support can inspire a whole new generation of pilots and help America regain technical leadership through STEM career choices by our youth,” Brubaker said in a statement.
Volunteers: STEM Flights depends on current pilots to volunteer to mentor students. Pilots who can help by donating their time or use of their aircraft can contact the training program at firstname.lastname@example.org
Students: Any high school or middle school student may participate in a STEM Flights program. Pilots would be partnered with students whose applications are approved.