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Teachers Take Flight at the AOPA High School STEM Symposium

News > Teachers Take Flight at the AOPA High School STEM Symposium

Louisville, KY – More than 300 high school educators and aviation industry representatives, including Gleim Aviation, came together this month to develop flight plans to launch STEM aviation education programs. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) held its fourth annual High School Aviation STEM Symposium to highlight aviation as a part of science, technology, engineering and math offerings in schools.

The conference featured 15 breakout sessions, two panel discussions, and two keynote speakers. All of the topics were geared toward helping educators and aviation enthusiasts start an aviation program in their school or enhance current courses. The goal was to help students grasp STEM concepts through aviation while building a pipeline for careers in aviation due to the pilot hiring boom.

To support these efforts AOPA developed curricula for grades 9 and 10 that teachers can adopt. Teachers are provided with 140 days worth of educational content, including presentations and classroom activities. By the 2021-2022 school year, curriculum for all four years of high school will be implemented at participating schools.

Cindy Hasselbring at the 2018 AOPA STEM Symposium

Cindy Hasselbring, Senior Director of the AOPA High School Aviation Initiative, shared some insights about the current participants in the High School Initiative during the opening ceremony. Of all the students taking the 9th grade course, 25% are female–well above the national average of female pilots at 7%–and 50% are from diverse backgrounds. Currently, there are 80 schools participating, but the aspiration is to have hundreds of participating schools by the final curriculum roll out.

The efforts are supported by AOPA at the highest levels. Mark Baker, AOPA CEO and President, said there are only 17,000 new private pilots per year; 30 years ago it averaged 50,000-60,000 per year. He discussed that accessibility and affordability are critical components to increasing the number of pilots; private funding allows AOPA to offer scholarships to learn to fly.

SpaceX President & COO, Gwynne Shotwell, and Matthew J. Desch, CEO, Iridium Communications, Inc.

“Set absurdly ambitious goals,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX President and COO, during her inspiring keynote address focusing on the future of space exploration, advancements in rockets, and general advice for all. Shotwell received degrees in mechanical engineering (BS) and applied mathematics (MS) and is an advocate for STEM education. She decided on becoming a mechanical engineer as a teenager after attending a Society of Women Engineers panel. She joked that it was a great pair of shoes that one of the panelists was wearing that first caught her attention and prompted her to speak to the woman after the panel.

A teacher flies the Gleim Virtual Cockpit

One of the best parts of the conference was connecting with educators during the breakout sessions and industry professionals at the exhibits. Gleim Aviation met with hundreds of teachers and school administrators over the 2-day event to help them learn how to incorporate aviation into schools with the Gleim Private Pilot Syllabus, reference books, and online training courses for professional development. Teachers without any aviation experience, captains at major airlines, and even military pilots were all impressed with the Gleim Virtual Cockpit™, the most affordable option to integrate flight simulation in the classroom.

Other highlights from the Symposium included a keynote speech by Houston Mills, UPS Director of Global Aviation and Public Policy, who shared the video One Girl’s Future in the Skies, which brought the crowd to tears. He said, “Diversity enhances perspective and helps us see things through a different lens.”

The excitement continued well into the evening as UPS offered tours of the Worldport Hub facility, where they train 2,800 UPS pilots, average 318 flights daily, and sort 2 million packages every day (double that during the holiday season!). Some attendees were offered a glimpse into the sorting facility, with its 155 miles of conveyor belts, while others got to test-fly a Boeing 757 full-motion flight simulator.

In one of the final panels, teachers shared insights they’ve learned through teaching aviation. Natalie Campana, aviation teacher at Steubenville High School in Ohio, said, “Our kids are alive, they’re excited! They’re going to their science teachers saying ‘Hey, how come we are not doing this stuff?’ Aviation is doing some really cool stuff.”

Gleim has many resources, such as the Runway to Opportunity brochure, to help schools start STEM Aviation programs

The inspiring event concluded with an announcement that the next AOPA STEM Symposium will take place November 11th and 12th, 2019, at the world’s largest flight simulation training center. Join us next year at the United Airlines flight training center in Denver!

Are you curious about adding aviation to your local high school? We can help! Start at the Gleim STEM Resource Hub to learn more. Then contact a Gleim Aviation Training Consultant to request free planning resources, such as our Runway to Opportunity brochure and Learn to Fly booklets, to help you develop your own flight path to landing aviation in your school or club.


Written by Callie Wilkes, Gleim Aviation Marketing & STEM Coordinator

About Gleim Aviation

Since 1980, Gleim Aviation’s team of pilots, instructors, writers, designers, and programmers has helped aviators pass millions of FAA knowledge and practical tests using the unique Gleim Knowledge Transfer System. Gleim is an environmentally-friendly company headquartered in Gainesville, FL.

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