A state program that promotes general aviation to children and young adults recently reached a milestone: It enrolled its 5,000th student.
Aviation Education North Dakota (AEND) was founded in 2011 by Sean Davis, Mike McHugh, and Dan Russell. “It was originally started as aviation education initiative for North Dakota. Our main goal was to expose children to the world of aviation,” said Davis, president of Aviation Education North Dakota and special projects manager for the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission. “It evolved to cover teens, then adults. We are now exposing the public to the great aviation community that North Dakota has to offer.”
AEND wanted to address a dwindling aviation community in the state and help with its resurgence, said Davis. “As our community ages, our pilots age too. After a few years of low student pilot numbers, we wanted an initiative to bring more pilots into our rural and commercial airports,” he said. “We want to expose kids to career fields they could be in and also generate future good employees and future pilots for North Dakota.”
One of the things that make AEND great is that it will work with “any and every one,” said Davis. “We purchased 10 desktop simulators that were made to travel,” he said. “We can come to schools and everywhere and offer kids and adults a few hours of an aviation experience,” he said.
AOPA’s Pilots and Teachers Handbook (PATH) curriculum is used to teach children in AEND about aviation, connecting math, science, physics, history, and technology. AEND offers its services to any school in North Dakota for children in grades 4 through 12 at no cost.
“PATH has been a great help and it’s a great program,” said Davis. “We can cover different education sections with the curriculum. We’re currently working on our own curriculum, but we’re still keeping AOPA’s as well.”
The AEND team drives a trailer across the state to work with among others, school systems, the scouts, 4H, and many other groups. AEND also gets out to airports in the state and to fly-ins with the simulators, said Davis. “It’s great for kids because they get the dual benefit of being at an airport and flying a simulator at the airport,” he said. “On top of that, we offer career fair services, where kids and others can learn about everything from the Transportation Security Administration to airport management to fish and wildlife, all areas of aviation.”
AEND was originally funded through an education grant from the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission, which has been a big supporter, said Davis. “We are now funded through private donations,” he said.
AOPA recently renewed its sponsorship of the program, given the great work that Davis and his team continue to do in North Dakota. “The program is a great example of how a few determined, interested aviators can come together to strengthen the future of an industry so critical to North Dakota’s future,” said Bryan Budds, AOPA Great Lakes regional manager.
AEND has used the state’s community of pilots, along with its website and Facebook page, to get the word out about the program, said Davis. “In the beginning, we had to call schools about our program, but now we have teachers calling us regularly,” he said.