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Young Aviators STEM camp turns 10Young Aviators STEM camp turns 10

A science, technology, engineering, and math-based (STEM) summer camp program that began as a chat between friends will celebrate its tenth anniversary in August. The five-day Young Aviators Program for Wisconsin youth combines hands-on STEM-based aircraft fabrication concepts with daily doses of flight training for an exciting, fun educational mix.

The five-day Young Aviators Program encourages campers to learn STEM concepts by hand-fashioning airplane parts but adds classroom learning, simulator training, and flight training to keep things fun and interesting. Photos courtesy of Phillip Fountain/Young Aviators Program. Composite by AOPA staff.

The program jump-started one graduate’s military aviation career and afforded another the opportunity to earn a private pilot certificate followed by an instrument rating.

Founders and pilots Scott Sellers and Steve Myers shared ideas over cups of coffee near Batten International Airport in Racine to brainstorm how they could give back to aviation and grow the pilot population. They were alarmed by the lack of science and engineering opportunities for young people and lamented how the United States could maintain its position as the world’s technology leader.

The two decided that making STEM concepts fun was a key priority to developing future aviators; adding practical flight instruction was the icing on the cake.

Sellers and Myers felt they could keep things fun and interesting by introducing Young Aviators to a slab of metal to be shaped and nurtured into an aircraft part. On the Monday that begins each session, campers are handed a piece of aluminum and by the end of the five-day camp it is transformed into a Sonex Aircraft assembly of some sort.

“A lot of these kids have never held a real tool in their hands until Monday morning,” Myers told AOPA. “For some of the kids it’s their best memory of the week.”

Campers spend about two hours per day fabricating aircraft parts, followed by classroom aviation, flight simulator training, and instructional time behind the controls of a Cessna 172.

The classroom instruction uses STEM concepts to teach students the fundamentals of flight with emphasis on aerodynamics, systems, navigation, and additional aviation skills.

AOPA’s You Can Fly initiatives recognize the importance of building the pilot community through a variety of mechanisms that make flying safe, fun, and affordable. The association seeks to bridge the gap in aviation youth education with its Aviation High School Initiative. The goal is to help build and sustain aviation-based STEM programs in high schools in order to provide a quality workforce to the aviation industry.

The two friends have come a long way since they began the $795 program with four students, one flight simulator, one flight instructor, an airplane, and six volunteers. The program has grown to 12 students, two simulators, six instructors, three airplanes, and a $36,000 operating budget funded by donations. Myers said scholarships are also available.

“When I reflect on the experience I had at Young Aviators, some words come immediately to mind: excitement, inspiration and accomplishment,” 2016 camp graduate Julia Jones wrote to Myers, expressing her gratitude for the STEM camp.

Myers explained that girls and boys do equally well during the camp, adding that after 10 years he remains “excited to see these kids blossom in the five-day program.”

David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: Aviation Industry, Student, Youth

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