University uses aviation to teach STEM to middle schoolers

August 11, 2014

A Bridge Partnership student practices on a simulator.

Massachusetts' Bridgewater State University has just completed the third year of its Bridge Partnership Program, which was created to stress the importance of higher education to disadvantaged middle school students. This year, 200 students came from the cities of New Bedford, Brockton, and Boston to live on campus from July 7 through 18, and half of them participated in an aviation curriculum to learn science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

The program was the brainchild of university president Dr. Dana Mohler-Faria, said David Price, associate dean of aviation at the school’s Ricciardi College of Business. “He wanted disadvantaged kids to come here and see that they can go to college. Sixty percent of Bridgewater’s students are first-generation college students,” he said.

Price said it was only natural to use aviation in the program. “It’s a hands-on, interactive program for students that get them hooked on furthering their education. We had a department chair teaching the aviation course with six other teachers and teaching assistants,” said Price. “Students were really immersed in flying, using our sims and flying our aircraft. We also did model building to understand engineering.”

The students also learned how to read instruments, said Price. “We also take them on field trips to places like a tour of an air traffic control tower or a maintenance facility,” he said.

They learn about the program because they have the chance to interact with people from the university during the school year, said Price. “Some volunteered to be in the program while others were invited,” he said. “All of them attend the program at no cost to their families. Many of them come from families where money is not abundant. We pay for food, housing, bedding, and transportation.”

Since the university received grants to help pay for the program, it does keep track of students, said Price. “We see that when they go back to school, they have remarkable success,” he said. “We feel the reason is they never thought about going to college. But when they get to experience it and see that they can go to college, it turns them into different people.”

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.