A business education partnership in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, has been awarded a $100,000, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) grant for using aviation education programs as a tool for igniting a passion for Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM). The program, based at a GA airport, includes everything from summer camps to building an experimental aircraft.
“Preparing today’s youth to become tomorrow’s transportation professionals” is the mission of the DOT Garrett A. Morgan Technology and Transportation Education Program (GAMTTEP) grant, provided through the Federal Highway Administration, in collaboration with the FAA Air Transportation Centers of Excellence.
“Through these awards, the DOT strives to encourage students to consider careers in transportation,” says Patricia Watts, Ph.D., Program Director for FAA Air Transportation Centers of Excellence, “and, within the FAA, of course, we are particularly interested in inspiring students to look toward future possibilities in aviation.”
This New Jersey-based STEM collaborative was initiated by local business leaders from Alexandria Field Airport and includes Hunterdon Central Regional High School, Delaware Valley Regional High School, and affiliated K-8 local school districts. Members also include Rutgers University, Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC), and other aviation industry experts.
The collaborative brings together a diverse group of business and education professionals to use aviation-based STEM curriculum, and hands on activities available at a general aviation airport, to motivate and mentor students and faculty from pre-K through the university levels. Leadership training, aviation clubs, airport engineering orientations, early-college education credits, scholarships, summer camps, internships and even building an experimental aircraft, are examples of programs to be offered through this collaborative.
“This grant provides an extraordinary opportunity for working collaboratively with our local airport and providing learning and leadership training for students and faculty,” says Lisa Brady, Hunterdon Central Regional High School District Superintendent.
“Alexandria Field will be the living laboratory for many of the programs funded by this grant,” says Linda Castner, program director and part owner-operator of Alexandria Field Airport, located in Pittstown, NJ.
“If I can fly an airplane, I can do anything,” is a familiar quote from participants in two leadership training programs (Leaders Take Flight” and Women Take Flight) developed from seven years of research conducted by Castner and Sue Stafford, Ph. D., a professor at Simmons College in Boston. An initial grant from the Wolf Aviation Fund helped launch the workshops that use flight training in small airplanes to develop three key leadership traits: confidence, adaptability, and communication/collaboration. Findings from the workshops document the power of aviation: “Learning about flying is not just about becoming a pilot; it’s about personal empowerment and self-discovery.”
“I’ve had Simmons faculty who participated in Leaders Take Flight workshops see me in the hall a year and a half after the workshop ended,” says Sue Stafford, an instrument rated pilot. “They burst out with comments like, ‘[I am] Still acting as pilot in command!’ That sort of impact is typical for this intense, 2-day experience; the learning sticks!”
The DOT grant provides faculty at the two high schools, Rutgers and RVCC the opportunity to participate in Leaders Take Flight, where they will receive training and confidence building that can be translated into improving STEM education in the classroom. Six female students from each high school will participate in Women Take Flight workshops.
Outcomes of the programs and workshops will be shared with participants and recommendations will be made for how to sustain and strengthen the programs funded by this initial grant. It is anticipated that the Office of the Program of Women in Science, Engineering and Math program at Rutgers University, in addition to the Aviation program at Auburn University, will use the leadership workshops to strengthen teaching, and attract and retain more young women into STEM related programs.
“The FAA is delighted to see a Garrett Morgan grant awarded to support Hunterdon and the Women Take Flight partnership,” says FAA’s Patricia Watts. “I would expect this exciting venture will be a model program for the entire nation. This team has put together all the necessary components to stimulate students’ interest in the excitement of flight, and to inspire them to focus their studies with purpose.”
“Over the next year, we want to include as much of the local community and aviation business leaders as possible,” says Castner. “We intend to cast a wide net to seize students of all ages, with a particular focus on drawing the attention of women and minorities. This is a unique program that meets many of the goals recently outlined in the President’s ‘Change the Equation’ initiative.”
A Kick-Off event for the Central New Jersey GAMTTEP Education Collaborative is open to the public and scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 13, at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in the auditorium from 10 a.m. until Noon. It will be followed by an Open House at Alexandria Field airport from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. featuring aircraft of all kinds.
For More Information: AlexandriaField.com