AirSpace Minnesota, Museum of Flight partner for education

Effort will teach STEM to students statewide

April 23, 2014

Children learning at Seattle’s Museum of Flight. Photo courtesy of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

Minneapolis-based AirSpace Minnesota has entered into a new partnership with Seattle’s Museum of Flight with plans to re-create the latter’s Aviation Learning Center. The partnership is part of a long-term effort to build an Air & Space Learning campus featuring the center and a Challenge Space Science Center, which will use aviation to teach science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) classes.

AirSpace Minnesota was incorporated in 2012, said President Kristi Rollag Wangstad. Board members include Cirrus CEO Dale Klapmeier, who serves as chairman; Vice Chairman Neil Brackin, director of air transportation for General Mills; Gordon Hoff, executive director of the Minnesota Business Aviation Association; Jeff Hamiel, executive director and CEO of the Metropolitan Airports Commission; and Ray Rought, president of the Minnesota Aviation History and Education Center.

“There has been a long-standing vision to create an aviation learning camp adjacent to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, but there has never been an entity strong enough to take it on and create the collaboration needed to put it together,” she said. “So we established this collaborative group that includes industry, education, and historical organizations in the region and start serving people as soon as possible.”

One of the underlying needs for AirSpace Minnesota is to serve as a steward of the state’s aviation legacy, said Wangstad. “Many people know about the Lindbergh family, but they don’t know about Jean and Jeannette Piccard, who were ballooning pioneers based in Minnesota. Jean taught at the University of Minnesota. There are so many incredible stories here,” she said. “There are also companies based here that contributed to aviation, including 3M making materials for moon boots and Mayo Clinic research on aerospace medicine.”

There are many pieces that show how deep and exciting flight has been in Minnesota, along with the organizations that participate in it and the technology surrounding it, said Wangstad. “An important piece is that we really want kids to see what’s possible with flight as a primary engagement tool. Kids need to be literate in science and technology, and flight is the perfect engagement tool. That’s why we’re partnering with the Museum of Flight, so we can bring their education learning center to Minnesota.”

The Museum of Flight created its learning center 10 years ago, said Wangstad. “They have never replicated it and they picked us first to do it,” she said. “We’ll create the template and then any community will be able to take it and replicate it in their own regions.”

AirSpace Minnesota’s Aviation Learning Center creates a new focal point for the community, said Wangstad. “We now have a place that celebrates the past and focuses on what we want to build in the future,” she said. It will also foster interaction between practitioners and youths, because there’s just not enough information for them to see how exciting aviation can be for their future.”

“I was speaking with [Cirrus CEO and AirSpace Minnesota Chairman] Dale Klapmeier and I said we are a state of hockey because we have a pipeline that starts before kindergarten,” said Wangstad. “Kids know how to benefit from it, and we want to do the same thing with flight. We want to give kids opportunities and show them how flight can enhance their lives.

The big launch of the Aviation Learning Center will be April 25 and 26, said Wangstad. “We’ve spent a great deal of time doing feasibility studies on what the program would look like. Our hope is to have it based at the St Paul Downtown Airport,” she said. “Not only will we offer education programs, but we can also offer meeting space for speakers and interactive events.”

AirSpace Minnesota will be hosting a fundraising dinner at the Golden Wings Museum April 25 with Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Apollo 17 astronaut Jack Schmitt. “They both worked with Bob Gilruth, the man who told President John Kennedy that we needed a space program. He was born and educated in Minnesota,” said Wangstad. “He’s a giant and was a very important part of America’s ability to go to space, but in Minnesota, no one knows his name. We want kids to be excited about a legacy they can be connected to.”

On April 26, AirSpace Minnesota will have a free public expo for teachers, students, and families. “We’ll have Buzz and Jack speaking, and we’ll show a series of videos on our vision for the future. Minnesota’s Karen Nyberg, who just came back from the international space station, will show kids how exciting careers can be with STEM skills,” said Wangstad.

“The progress Kristi and her team have made to advance aerospace education in just a few short years is incredible,” said AOPA Great Lakes Regional Manager Bryan Budds. “AOPA looks forward to continuing to support the organization as it continues to grow across Minnesota.”

AirSpace Minnesota has sent videos to every school in the state, said Wangstad. “We’re working hard to create a network of community volunteers and schools, along with our hub in Minneapolis that will serve as a destination,” she said. “We are in phase one. The timeline to do our renovations is eight months. If we do well in the next few months, we could be serving thousands of kids by next year. Plus we’re already letting the schools know we’re doing this so they are prepared.”

Benét Wilson

Benét J. Wilson | AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor

AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor Benét J. Wilson joined AOPA in 2011. She is working on her private pilot certificate.