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When I Grow Up, I Want to Be an Aviator!

How the FAA Helps To Launch Students Into an Aviation Career

FAA Safety Briefing
Nov 1, 2021 · 12 min read

By Jennifer Caron, FAA Safety Briefing Copy Editor

Photo of kid with airplane wings.

“If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” — Marc Anthony

dad took me to my first airshow when I was in 4th grade, and that’s when I knew I wanted to be an aviator. I met so many cool pilots, and I got to see neat airplanes and explore in the cockpit. Back then, most of my friends wanted to be superheroes or ballerinas, but not me — sitting right seat was my ultimate thrill ride, and I couldn’t wait to move to the command seat one day. The aviation bug had bitten me from the start, and I’ve been smitten ever since.

There is no doubt in my mind that if my dad had not introduced me to the wonders of aviation early on, I probably would not have developed my “plane” passion that continues to this day. Research confirms it, and studies show that if you have a passion for something now, it more than likely came from an early childhood experience. Ask any of today’s aerospace engineers, pilots, or mechanics, and they can tell you what inspired them to pursue their career in aviation.

For some, it was their natural ability to fix things, taking them apart and putting them back together again — the right way. Others were hooked on math or science and their favorite superheroes were Bill Nye the Science Guy and Stephen Hawking. Still others, who could tell aircraft types just by the sound they made, were always curious to learn the principles of flight and the forces that keep the metal birds in the sky.

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Did you know that children are born scientists and mathematicians — testing, exploring, and questioning the world around them? Science, technology, engineering, and math support your child’s instinctive curiosity. These fields of study, also known as STEM subjects, play a critical role in a young aviator’s future. Early exposure to these disciplines prepares students not only for subsequent careers in the aviation and aerospace industries, but also for the workforce of tomorrow.

There are so many opportunities — not just for new pilots, dispatchers, air traffic controllers, maintenance technicians, drone operators, and engineers — but also for cybersecurity specialists, data analysts, program managers, communication specialists, and other professionals who play an essential role in the National Airspace System.

The aviation industry is quickly evolving, but at the same time, baby boomers are retiring in large numbers. Add that to our current shortfall in qualified aviators and mechanics, and you’re looking at a tremendous opportunity for today’s students. That’s the good news. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Aerospace Employment is projected to grow 7% from 2019 to 2029 — faster than the average for all occupations. In May 2020, the median annual wage for aerospace employees was $68,570. The bad news: we’ve got a shortage today that’s projected to shrink the workforce of tomorrow. The demand to fill these STEM-related aerospace fields exists right now, and the need is only growing.

A program the FAA created to address this issue is the STEM Aviation and Space Education (STEM AVSED) program. It’s mission:

✈️ Promote aerospace STEM-based education, and✈️ Prepare and inspire the next generation for aviation and aerospace careers.

STEM AVSED is a catalyst to encourage elementary, secondary, and college students to study and strengthen STEM skills. Its forward-thinking program introduces students to the educational experience they will need to get those well-paying aerospace jobs that are available and in high demand.

Let’s take a closer look at the STEM AVSED program.

STEM AVSED 101

STEM logo.
STEM logo.

Since 1935, the FAA and its predecessor organizations have been working with schools and colleges across the nation, and in partnership with other government agencies, industry, and non-profit organizations to promote STEM education. Fast forward to the launch of Sputnik in 1957, signaling the start of the space race. That’s when the FAA added space education to the mission, paving the way for the 1961 establishment of the comprehensive program, STEM AVSED, to prepare and inspire students for both aviation and aerospace careers.

National FAA STEM AVSED Program Lead Jim Brough, (whom you’ll meet in this issue’s FAA Faces department), has worked with the program since 2008, collaborating with the regional STEM AVSED program analysts, FAA employees, and the aerospace community working every day to provide information and quality programs for students and their educators.

The STEM AVSED program has four strategic goals:

  • Pipelines and Pathways to Aerospace Careers: Perform student outreach to inspire the next generation and provide them with pathways to aerospace careers.
  • STEM Education for Every Student: Ensure access to our outreach activities for all students, with a focus on underrepresented and underserved communities.
  • Strategic Partnerships to Maximize Benefits: Collaborate with industry, academia, and other government agencies to develop pipelines into aerospace careers.
  • Cross-agency Collaboration to Optimize the Program: Making the most of the FAA’s internal resources to raise student awareness of opportunities in aviation and aerospace.

The STEM AVSED program reaches thousands of students of every age and grade level nationwide each year. National, regional, and local partnerships with industry, academia, government, and non-profits are the crucial relationships that provide the resources, expertise, and networks to help make this program such a huge success and a champion for students.

“Starry Flight” painting by artist Melissa Bernard.
“Starry Flight” image courtesy of artist Melissa Bernard, 2021 graduate, University of Maryland Baltimore County, bachelor’s degree in visual arts and print media.

Learn how the arts can also be a gateway to aviation through STEAM (science, technology, engineering, Arts, and math). Check out Postflight in this issue for more.

Fun and Educational STEM AVSED Programs

ACE Academies

You’ll get to spend an entire week at a summer camp learning about aviation (faa.gov/education/ace_academy).

  • Lessons in flight planning, history, and the physics of flight.
  • Field trips to aviation-related sites.
  • Instruction on aircraft design and maintenance.
  • Flight simulations and aircraft flights.

EAA and many other industry programs also offer aviation camps for middle and high school-aged students (bit.ly/EAACamps).

Minecraft Build an Airport Challenge

In 2020, the FAA created a fun and educational program called Airport Design Challenge. Here are some details about the program:

  • Using Minecraft, teams recreated and built local airports using 3D blocks.
  • At the end of the contest, FAA staff scored each entry for technical accuracy, creativity, innovation, and demonstrated knowledge.
  • Winners received certificates and enjoyed a fun, hands-on way to learn about STEM, teamwork, and problem solving.
  • It’s free and anyone can join.
  • Due to the great response from the public, the FAA is currently reviewing the program and hopes to re-release it in the near future. (The next registration window is open Nov. 1–14, 2021.)
  • Stay tuned for more on this great program (bit.ly/FAAMinecraft).

Don’t miss the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) Aviation Design Challenge where high school students can compete to design an aircraft (bit.ly/GAMAChallenge).

Opportunities for Girls? Diverse Students? Youth with Disabilities?

Yes! The FAA is committed to building an aviation workforce of the future that reflects the diversity of our nation, and the STEM AVSED program is at the forefront of that initiative with “STEM for Every Student.”

Our airspace is evolving, and diversity brings a wide range of life experiences, new ideas, and different perspectives to the table. We’re looking at a future of drones, commercial space, air taxis, and increasingly complex cybersecurity needs. Embracing and cultivating diversity creates an environment open to fresh approaches and innovation to safely enable and address the challenges of our modern airspace. The ability to attract, develop, and retain a qualified, diverse workforce is essential to the FAA’s safety mission.

“It is a well-recognized fact that although aviation and aerospace provide excellent job opportunities for many women and minorities, there is currently a very small percentage in the aviation industry,” says Chris Sharp, manager in the FAA’s Aviation Workforce and Education division. Many lack awareness of aviation and aerospace as a career path.

“STEM AVSED reaches out to and encourages young women and girls, more diverse students, and youth from all walks of life to pursue STEM education and to see themselves in these careers,” says Sharp.

Programs for Women and Minorities

STEM AVSED partners with organizations such as Women in Aviation International, the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, and the International Black Aerospace Council, focused on attracting youth to pursue a career in aviation. Close ties to colleges, universities, public school systems, and other organizations with a high concentration of underserved groups assist STEM AVSED in targeting students for inclusion from all minority groups, women, and youth with disabilities.

Federal committees, such as the Women in Aviation Advisory Board and the Youth Access to American Jobs in Aviation Task Force, are tasked to provide recommendations to identify pathways for recruitment and detect barriers to equity and access.

Here’s just a few of the many programs available:

  • Women in Aviation International: Education and career resources to encourage and advance women in all aviation fields (wai.org/resources). Check out the Aviation for Girls magazine!
Magazine.
Magazine.
  • Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals: Advancing and enhancing minority participation in aviation. School career day events, summer programs, flight training academies, professional development (obap.org).
  • Fly For The Culture: Making the world of aviation accessible and affordable to all, regardless of race or ethnicity (flyfortheculture.org).

Visit faa.gov/education/partnerships to learn more.

Looking for Grants, Scholarships, FAA Internships?

Check out faa.gov/jobs/students/internships and find the organizations that can help finance your education at faa.gov/education/grants_and_scholarships.

What Parents and Teachers Need to Know

Educators, counselors, and parents help guide students to future aviation success, and STEM AVSED is here to support you. Read on to find aviation-themed curricula, virtual classroom visits, and the newly created Adopt-a-School program.

Virtual and Free

“The unexpected benefit of going all virtual has really opened up the opportunity to expand our reach with larger and much broader audiences — any student can attend from anywhere,” says Sharp.

  • This past September, thousands of girls aged 8–17 from around the world participated in the free, seventh annual Girls in Aviation Day hosted by Women in Aviation International. Virtual events included career panel videos, instructional and learning activities, virtual tours, information about scholarships and more, introducing girls to aviation careers and STEM.
  • Download the free Aviation for Girls app to view the events and keep up to date with year-round content, including hands-on activities and videos of female role models in the industry.
wai.org/aviation-girls-2021-app

The FAA welcomed organizations like Women in Aviation International, the National Air and Space Museum, and Dreams Soar, started by Shaesta Waiz, the first female from Afghanistan certified as a civilian pilot. Read “Meet Shaesta Waiz” in this issue to learn more about her amazing journey and work to empower young women and girls into aviation.

Call To Action

Let this be the moment that inspires a young aviator to pursue STEM and open the doors to a life-long and rewarding career in aviation. As a parent, teacher, friend, or counselor, you are the wind beneath the wings of a student’s future flight path.

Share this information with the future aviators in your life — and spread the word!

But don’t stop there. There are many intersecting runways to a career in aviation. Tell us what you’re doing to reach the next generation. Reach out by email to 9-AHR-AVSED@faa.gov.

“When we get the community talking, connecting, and exchanging ideas, the pathways open,” says Sharp. We can set the flight plan for the next generation, as we share our passion with the aviators of tomorrow.

🍎 Aviation-Themed STEM Lessons and Resources

Check out faa.gov/education/educators. To find aviation-themed STEM lessons and resources and the K-12 curriculum, check out faa.gov/education/educators/curriculum/k12. For games, puzzles, projects, and fun hands-on experiments for every grade level, visit faa.gov/education/students/activities.

Don’t miss the Youth Access to American Jobs in Aviation Task Force public meetings. They’re live-streamed, include guest speakers from the aviation community, and anyone can virtually attend. You’ll find a YouTube recording of a past meeting below.

https://youtu.be/aZstI0LFzB0

Industry programs offer STEM aviation curricula as well:

🍎 Check out AOPA’s free High School Aviation STEM curriculum for high school teachers (youcanfly.aopa.org).

🍎 Discover the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) AeroEducate. It’s free, with turnkey aviation-themed activities for teachers of kids aged 5 to 18. EAA also offers free introductory (Young Eagles) flights for students (eaa.org/eaa/youth/free-ye-flights).

🍎 Choose this site for an aviation maintenance- focused curriculum for students interested in aviation technical training (chooseaerospace.org).

🍎 Find fun and interactive FAA aviation and aerospace educational videos on YouTube (bit.ly/AviationAerospaceFAA).

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5vHkqHi51DQKGpi1obK_Lqzd9z9zQQ48

Adopt-a-School

The newly created Adopt-a-School program pairs teachers with FAA Liaisons that come to your school. Initially, the program will work with your schools to teach six aerospace lessons for 4th grade students for free, with lessons and materials on a wide range of STEM-related aerospace topics. The program launched during the 2021–22 school year with nine schools across the country selected, based on a combination of factors including diversity and proximity to FAA facilities. Adopt-a-School provides a unique learning opportunity for students. Stay tuned at faa.gov/education/students for more on this innovative new program as it grows in future years.

Virtual Classroom Visits

At the heart of STEM AVSED are close to 1,700 FAA employees who train as outreach representatives to share their time, expertise, and passion for aviation with students aged K through 12. Since 2016, the program has tapped into FAA employees and industry partners who are drone pilots, mechanics, engineers, and so much more to cultivate students’ love for STEM education and to consider aviation careers. They visit schools, scout programs, community events, etc., (now virtually, due to COVID-19) to serve as online guest presenters, virtual science fair judges, conduct virtual job shadow sessions, introduce fundamental aviation concepts to students, and conduct educator workshops with learning packets for teachers and parents to use at home.

Be All You Can Be

Photo of Brandan Dadoun.
Photo of Brandan Dadoun.
Brandan Dadoun

Brandan Dadoun is just 17 years old and already has his private pilot’s certificate with instrument privileges. This past September, he received the Western Pacific Regional Administrator’s Aviation Partner Award that honors individuals who promote, improve, and support flight safety. Brandan is an FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) Rep in the San Jose district and enjoys producing and writing an average of three seminars a week. Over the course of a year, he made possible approximately 150 opportunities for airmen to earn WINGS credits. As an ambassador and spokesperson for young people interested in aviation, he created the Flight Teen Volunteer Program at the San Carlos Airport’s Hiller Aviation Museum, inspiring a significant number of teen volunteers to join. As a trainer in a volunteer network of air traffic controllers, he helps pilots obtain real-world experience on the mic. He also developed an aviation network at his high school with activities, airport visits, and opportunities for students to sit left seat in an aircraft. These are just a few of Brandan’s accomplishments as he continues on his flight path to motivate, inform, and encourage young adults to experience the passion he holds for aviation.

✈️ Check out Stevie Triesenberg, a top aviation influencer on TikTok @planegirl, and see how she’s inspiring the next generation through social media.

✈️ “I wanted to help Black students see that they could also work in aviation … Representation matters.” — read Johnny Rose’s story at bit.ly/YouCanAchieve.

Jennifer Caron is FAA Safety Briefing’s copy editor and quality assurance lead. She is a certified technical writer-editor in the FAA’s Flight Standards Service.
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This article was originally published in the November/December 2021 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine. https://www.faa.gov/news/safety_briefing/
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Cleared for Takeoff

Voices, stories and news from the Federal Aviation Administration

Cleared for Takeoff

Voices, stories and news from the Federal Aviation Administration

FAA Safety Briefing

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Official FAA safety policy voice for general aviation. Part of the national FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam).

Cleared for Takeoff

Voices, stories and news from the Federal Aviation Administration