“Young people can do anything they set out to do as long as they have encouragement and a good support team,” said retired U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration squadron commander Kevin Robbins in a general session.
“Don’t let other people discourage you from achieving your dreams,” he told more than 350 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) educators during the gathering, which focused on leadership, best learning practices, and hands-on projects designed to engage youth in aviation.
United Airlines Senior Vice President of Flight Operations Bryan Quigley told educators that the aviation industry is striving to catch up on hiring demands in the face of impending pilot retirements, continued growth, and worldwide demand for air travel. “The demand is intense for pilots and I do believe there is a pilot shortage. We need new blood and new talent,” he said.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost added that the future of flight is both “in [the] air and in space—and in manned and unmanned operations.” She asked educators to look for the “diamond in the rough” students and to nurture them.
“We need you—we absolutely need you,” echoed Susan White, the senior manager for pilot recruiting at United Airlines, during a discussion on career choices. “You are making a difference in the world of aviation.”
The AOPA STEM conference for educators began in 2015 with aspirations to give high school leaders an opportunity to network, hear from fellow aviation professionals, and learn from each other. AOPA has coached hundreds of teachers and provided them with classroom resources and hands-on training that make learning fun and informative, while exposing students to aviation careers that they may not have considered. More than 5,000 ninth, tenth, and eleventh graders at 161 schools in 34 states are utilizing the program.
“You are going to change the world,” said AOPA President Mark Baker, who thanked the teachers. “You are changing young people’s lives, I guarantee it.”
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