The sharing of ideas, information, and teaching tips flew by at a rapid pace during the 1.5-hour presentation. The appetite for aviation learning and accompanying careers has grown exponentially in the years since the AOPA You Can Fly High School Initiative began in 2015.
The yearly gathering of science, technology, engineering, and math teaching specialists helps highlight an engaging curriculum for young people that spans ninth through twelfth grade with hands-on projects that make learning fun and interesting.
“It’s feeling really good here,” said AOPA High School Aviation Initiative Director Glenn Ponas. More than 950 people attended the virtual event, which included sessions presented by aviation STEM education leaders and professional pilots. Several schools held virtual watch parties with teachers, students, administrators, and parents sharing the experience.
The AOPA curriculum is available free of charge to school systems nationwide and has been deployed in more than 400 classrooms at more than 200 schools in 38 states, shaping the lessons taught to about 8,000 students. One of the hallmarks of the initiative is broadening the demographics of those exposed to aviation to help diversify the pilot population. Between 22 and 23 percent of the high school aviation STEM students are female, compared to about 7.5 percent of career pilots in the United States.
Interactive chats began as the program went live and continued throughout the presentation hosted by Swayne Martin, a professional pilot with a large internet following.
AOPA President Mark Baker welcomed hundreds of online participants and said he remains focused on preparing young people for aviation careers despite temporary setbacks that might not always allow a “straight line” to a full-time job. Baker encouraged instructors and their students to stay the course and predicted aviation careers would remain strong in the months and years ahead.
Women in Aviation International CEO Allison McKay, UPS Vice President of Flight Operations and Safety Capt. Houston Mills, and Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals Board Chair Vanessa Blacknall-Jamison led a diversity discussion on inclusivity and broadening the pilot ranks. Blacknall-Jamison said, “Mentorship is vital, but you have to believe in yourself [and] have faith. You are capable of doing anything. The sky is the limit.”
The next AOPA High School Aviation STEM Symposium is planned for November 14 through 16, 2021, in Orlando, Florida.
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The You Can Fly program and the Air Safety Institute are funded by charitable donations to the AOPA Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization. To be a part of the solution, visit aopafoundation.org/donate.