Educating Our Youth Through Educating Ourselves: Bringing Aerospace to the Classroom
If you are a teacher or educator, you need to read this and be aware of the event’s presence. This event is a tremendous opportunity to learn and re-educate, to offer new ideas and progress your classroom into a haven for scientific creativity, discovery, and passion. It is a known fact that we, as a nation, need to get our youth more interested in the sciences. Rather than forcing something down their throats, it’s better to spark the interest and let them want to pursue mathematics, sciences, and engineering. There are so many fascinating facets to these fields that I don’t think there’s a single child who wouldn’t find something that speaks to them. But how do we do it? How do we introduce these revolutionary career paths to our youth without a phrase not dissimilar to, “Just do it because I said so.”?
An organization out of Lansing, Michigan has tackled this problem; or rather, continues to tackle the problem. Square One, a network specifically designed for increased education has resumed their Teacher Professional Development Aviation/Aerospace STEM Education program after a five year hiatus. Held at Lansing’s Capitol City Airport, I had the distinct pleasure of attending this year. While the conference is directed toward teachers of science, anyone is welcome to attend (if you pay the minimal fee) and learn. The point of the conference is to introduce teachers to various aspects of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) to which they may not have otherwise had access so that they may take their new knowledge to their students, introduce them to a whole new rendition of learning STEM in schools, and carry it forward into their lives. An added bonus this year was Governor Snyder’s signing on October 1st proclaiming October 26th as “Aviation and Aerospace Teacher Education Day.”
This year’s conference was nothing short of phenomenal. Karl Klimek, the Executive Orchestrator for Square One did an incredible job, in conjunction with other members and organizations of organizing the event, allowing for lecture-style discussions, exhibits, workshops, tours of the control tower, and even free flights; all broken up throughout the day in half hour and one hour increments. For a mere $25, the attendee was able to either browse the entirety of the event or simply focus on specific aspects within their field of study or interest and speak one on one with masters of their field.
The event started at around 0830 with registration before being moved into the “auditorium”. Once everyone was seated and ready, the information and stories started pouring in from Klimek and the guest speakers. Klimek discussed a bit about the history and process of the event and its purpose and goals. He then turned it over to the presenters who offered an incredible line-up of knowledge, humor, stories, and personal/company goals. One of the presenters was Flip Colmer who flies the big birds for Delta Airlines. He was fascinating to listen to as he relayed his history and how he got to where he is now, and offered some insight for the teachers to take back to their students. And hey… he’s a fellow home brewer. Nothing wrong with that!
Another presenter was the CEO of Michigan Aerospace, Peter Tchoryk who held so much passion in his presentation and you could tell he loves what he does. Tchoryk gave us the backstory of Michigan Aerospace from its conception to its place today. It was very impressive and inspiring to hear what they have accomplished right here in Michigan and the tools and devices they have created that are orbiting our planet today. I know I was not alone to be surprised that we have such an influential company in the field of aerospace right here in Michigan. Since the event was primarily focused on students and their futures, Tchoryk enlightened us with what he looks for in an employee. While degrees are an excellent backing, he wants those with passion and a desire to learn, grow, mature, and offer creative, passionate ideas and solutions. I used the word “enlightened” because that’s exactly what it was. It was “enlightening” to hear something like that over just wanting a piece of paper that may or may not improve one’s lifestyle.
And yet another presenter was one whose workshop presentation I wished to attend, but couldn’t due to the tower tour I was on running over time. Greg MacMaster, meteorologist, state Representative, and aviator, is a whirlwind of knowledge. He brought the importance of weather into the realm of aviation allowing those less experienced in the field to better understand the necessity of the study of weather from an aviator’s viewpoint. He humorously closed his lecture presentation with, “When I’m done fixing DC, I’ll go back to meteorology.”
The lecture portion closed with a fun, yet unexpected display of indoor RC aircraft that were flown around the auditorium, held aloft with such control and precision that they would often near the projection screen and the audience within inches without so much as a bobble.
Perhaps “exhibit” is the wrong term as all of these were very interactive. Two large hangars were filled with aircraft ranging from an R-44 owned by Dennis Bowdoin of Helicopter Air Specialty Service to Western Michigan University’s Aviation Department’s Cirruses to an L-39 owned and flown by Ron Staley. He also owns and regularly flies a Texan T-6 (which there was also one of those present owned by Dan Schiffer). There were other various aircraft available for viewing and many of the pilots of these aircraft allowed the public to get in the cockpit and were taught the basics of the instruments, controls, limitations, and functions of the aircraft.
In addition to all the aircraft, there were other exhibits as well, including a ‘booth’ with home-made RC, rubberband, and non-powered model aircraft. The presenters at this booth were as passionate about what they make (which all of their designs are unique) as the pilots of the big planes. It was fun to watch them explain their process and demo their creations.
There were two Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) chapters present as well. Due to the closeness of the EAA with children in regards to their Young Eagles program, I felt their presence at the event to be just as, if not more important than the aircraft themselves. The EAA has housed the Young Eagles program for nothing other than the sake of getting children interested in flying and tries to reach out to those who may not have any other way of being introduced to aviation. Both Chapter 55 and Chapter 13 were present to discuss the goals and purpose of the EAA with all present.
And of course, Western Michigan University (WMU) had their booth set up and parked alongside one of their beautiful glass panel cirrus aircraft. Their purpose was three-fold.
1: To offer information on their aviation program and where it could take the student upon graduation.
2: To offer tours of their aircraft and educate the attendees on aircraft control surfaces, controls, and glass panel operation.
3: To offer free half hour rides to anyone who signed up (focus was on teachers).
Not only did they reach those three goals, but they were extremely pleasant to speak with and very knowledgeable. The ‘panel’ consisted of students, CFIs, and instructors.
One thing I cannot overlook is the Control Tower tours. I was fascinated with this. There were three tour slots available throughout the day (technically four, but the final slot was an 'overflow' slot). I signed up for the first one and my only regret was not having returned in time for the meteorology presentation (more on that later). During the tour, we were shown the radar room in TraCon (probably my favorite part). The reason our tour went over time was because our tour guide was full of information and wasn’t hesitant to share it. It was an incredible experience because of this. We learned how to read the radar, how aircraft are handed off from airspace to airspace, demonstrative description of how they line up the aircraft for approach, etc. It was absolutely fascinating to learn how we pilots look to those who keep us alive in busy airspace.
The presentations were well-thought out for the most part, and scheduled in time slots distributed throughout the day, usually filling a half hour each. But one thing that was magnificent was these weren’t rigid time slots and there was nothing rigid about the scheduling overall. This was excellent because no one felt as though they were being herded from one presentation to another. It was much more of an “expo” feel in that all attendees were not only welcomed, but encouraged to wander freely from booth to booth and from presentation to presentation or take the tour or wander the aircraft or go on a flight!
The morning’s presentations were scheduled to begin at 1100. However, the lecture portion ran a little over and the presentations actually began around 1130. Most people took it in stride. Scheduled from 1100 to 1130 was a choice between Stockbridge High School’s Quad Copters or MIAT College of Technology Behind the Scenes Aviation Careers presentation. I chose the 1100 tower tour so I was unable to attend either of these.
At 1130, the schedule moved on to Michigan Indoor Aircraft Association or Meteorological Resources. Again, I was still on the tour and returned just in time to see the end of Greg MacMaster’s Meteorological presentation.
We had lunch, included in the $25 registration fee. The lunch wasn’t bad. It was actual catered lunch that consisted of your choice of sandwich (roast beef, turkey, ham, or vegetarian), potato salad, a bag of chips, and a cookie. It doesn’t sound all that great here on paper, but it honestly was pretty good and let’s be honest… it’s included in the already inexpensive $25 fee.
At 1230, MIAT College of Technology offered a presentation on Airframe Structures and Building Activity. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), I missed this one as well… another one I really wanted to be a part of. But I missed it due to the fact that I was at about 2000 feet flying one of the incredible Cirrus airplanes provided by WMU. As a student pilot, myself, I was offered some stick time once we were off the ground and was allowed to fly the entirety of the “route”, touring the skies above East Lansing and Lansing. I immediately fell in love with the responsiveness of the aircraft and with the beauty of the glass panel (though I still think I prefer my steam gauges). Even though the Pilot in Command (PIC) was a CFI, I couldn’t talk him into signing my logbook for me. I tried. What’re ya gonna do? Keep in mind, there was no additional charge for this flight time. It was time and fuel donated by WMU’s aviation department.
Back to the presentations: At 1330, there was a presentation choice of either Space Based Research in Middle Schools or Aviation Technology: Physics of Flight Training. These were two extremely interesting presentations offered by Orion’s Quest and School of Missionary Aviation Technology respectively, two organizations I didn’t even know existed until this event.
Moving forward throughout the day and after wandering the hangars again (fascinated by the aircraft present), there were six other presentations that were held by WMU Aviation, EAA Chapter 55 spoke of the Young Eagles, West Michigan Flight Academy spoke of Lat/Long activities, a presentation on Cessna Skyhawks as classrooms, Civil Air Patrol’s (CAP) Lt. Carol Samuelson spoke of programs for schools, and EAA Chapter 13 interactively demonstrated the process of hot air balloon building. The control tower tours were held throughout the day with one at 1100, one at 1300, one at 1400, and one at 1500.
The day wrapped up at 1530 as we all returned to the auditorium and WMU presented us with a bit about their goals and purposes under the subtitle “Pursuing the Dream.” It was focused on exactly that; pursuing the dream of aviation/aerospace, no matter which path one desires, be it in the cockpit or on the ground. Finally, there was the raffle which offered the winners (yes… multiple winners) the choice of various items ranging from ball caps to the signed proclamation of the governor. Once everything was wrapped up, we were handed a big red bag absolutely full of swag. I waited until I got home to open the bag, but was actually pretty surprised at some of the stuff in there. I won’t list everything here, but to give you an idea, there was an umbrella, a solid marble business card holder with clock, three balsa airplanes (remember those things? I love those things), a game for students, and a DVD for aerospace education for students. But I think my most prized possession from the whole event… remembering the ignorance I had going into the event compared to the knowledge I had coming out. I will definitely be returning next year and I hope many of you come as well; especially if you are an educator. It is well beyond worth the registration fee.
If you’re interested in attending the 2014 STEM event in Lansing, you can contact Karl Klimek. If you are not in the Lansing area but have questions about possibly starting something similar in your area, he may have some answers for you.
Here is the flier for 2013, just to give you a better idea of what was present at the event. I placed this here because it does hold some standard information that you can use to better contact for the 2014 event as well.