The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s sixth-annual High School Aviation STEM Symposium presented as a livestream sponsored by the U.S. Air Force was as engaging and informative online as it was during in-person sessions. The sharing of ideas, information, and teaching tips flew by at a torrid 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, despite a recent commercial air travel slowdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
The yearly gathering of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) 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.
Over 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 focus was on tools and strategies to help teachers and administrators implement and grow an effective aviation STEM program.
The AOPA curriculum is available free of charge to school systems nationwide and counts more than 400 classrooms at over 200 schools in 38 states with 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. Approximately 23 percent of the high school aviation STEM students are female compared to about 7.5 percent of females working as career pilots in the U.S.
Interactive chats began the moment the program went live and continued throughout the presentation hosted by Swayne Martin, a professional pilot with a massive internet following.
AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker welcomed hundreds of online participants and said he is remaining focused on preparing young people for aviation careers despite temporary setbacks, and that might not always be 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.
Martin shared his passion for aviation and deftly danced between pre-recorded sessions, live video, and moderating chats. When the topic of financial assistance was raised, Martin reminded students and teachers that they can apply for over $1 million in AOPA scholarships when applications open on December 1.
The next AOPA High School STEM Aviation Symposium is planned for Nov. 14-16, 2021, in Orlando, Florida.