|$1 Million Investment in Aero Education by Oklahoma Aeronautics; Oklahoma Leads the Nation Again for Aviation High Schools in 2023 |
In a state where Oklahoma’s education institutions vectored the brilliant minds of aviation greats such as Bessie Coleman, Dr. Shannon Lucid, Tom Stafford, Gordon Cooper, William R Pogue, Geraldyn Cobb, John Herrington, Pearl Carter Scott, and many others, aero education in Oklahoma is not only rooted in the red dirt of our 77 counties, it is comparable to a 100-year old tree with a great wind beneath its canopy.
What was once an aviation sapling in 1911 when Clyde Cessna built and flew his first airplane, “Silverwing,” on the Great Salt Plains near Jet, Oklahoma, has evolved into a strong oak tree which has grown significant roots throughout the state to become what is known as our second leading industry, aerospace and defense, with $44B of annual economic impact. Today’s industry successes have not been without challenges, however. The industry’s biggest challenge, not just in Oklahoma, but across the Country, is finding quality workforce to support, sustain, and grow the industry for the future.
These challenges led aerospace and aviation education to become one of the Aeronautics Commission’s top priorities in the early 2000s, and since that time the Commission has provided $4.6 million in aerospace and education funding to organizations and programs throughout the state. The agency has been given the prodigious responsibility to inspire young minds and guide them toward aerospace careers. During the 2023 legislative session, Senate Bill 930 established the Aero Student Pathways for Aerospace Careers and Education (AeroSPACE) program to help the agency double-down on its Aero education efforts. The legislation directed the agency to address the workforce needs of the aviation and aerospace industry by promoting and implementing quality aerospace educational curriculum statewide.
With the apparent need for additional workforce in the aerospace and defense industry continuing to grow, the Aeronautics Commission adopted its largest ever Aero Education Program for FY 2024 with an overall program eclipsing $1M. In addition to the over $500,000 worth of competitive grant awards approved during their August meeting, the Commission awarded funds to all Oklahoma high schools teaching the AOPA “You Can Fly” curriculum to provide supplies and professional development opportunities. The Commission also approved $125,000 in funding for the development or improvement of classroom laboratories dedicated to teaching aviation and aerospace programs. Lastly, the Commission approved the continuation of the agency’s four major aerospace education events which include Oklahoma Student Pilot Day, and Oklahoma UAS Teacher Training and Awareness Conference, the Oklahoma AERO Education Training and Professional Development Symposium, and Oklahoma Superintendents Aviation Day.
“I am so proud that the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission is equipping students with the training and resources they need to pursue a future in our state’s second-largest industry,” said Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Tim Gatz. “Oklahoma has a rich history in aerospace and aviation, and I am glad to see the continued investments that make us Top Ten in this growing field.”
The agency’s Aerospace and Aviation Education Grant Program has been awarding aerospace and aviation education grants for over 30 years. This year’s seventy-one organizations that were awarded Aerospace and Aviation Education Program grants totaling $502,885 during the Commission’s August meeting set another record. Grants are awarded to organizations that conduct targeted learning programs with a direct application to aerospace and aviation for primary through post-secondary education. Programs that are supported range from 4-year high school curriculum such as the AOPA “You Can Fly” effort, summer camps offered by major universities, drone racing competitions, a 2-year high school curriculum dedicated to teaching aircraft mechanics, after-school STEM activities, tours at various airports across the system, and many others. These programs will reach nearly 50,000 students across the state.
Aerospace and Defense is a significant economic engine in the state with over 1,100 companies providing 120,000 direct jobs. For commerce and communities across Oklahoma a safe, reliable, and economically viable air transportation system is critical. Oklahoma’s airports are not just critical to that air transportation mission, but they are also key to unlocking the awareness and passion behind our state’s available aerospace careers. The Commission regularly connects AOPA schools, Aero Education Grant recipients, and other aviation minded programs to our airports and those passionate aviators to help inspire young students as well as adult Oklahomans to choose aviation and aerospace as a possible career path.
“The Oklahoma legislature and our state leaders are certainly driving what we are calling a renaissance for aerospace and aviation, but Oklahoma’s educators in the classrooms are the professionals helping to vector these young minds towards an aerospace career,” said State Director of Aeronautics Grayson Ardies. “Whether it’s Oklahoma’s continued #1 ranking with 80+ schools teaching the AOPA high school curriculum, our award-winning Aero education program, or the host of industry partners we work with, Oklahoma has never been better positioned to turn today’s students into tomorrow’s aerospace workforce.”
Aerospace and Defense is the state’s fastest growing industry, but in order to continue on the current growth trajectory the industry will need a capable workforce to staff new jobs and replace those upcoming retirements over the next several decades. “In my 40 years in public education I never experienced anything as remarkable as the tremendous growth of aviation education that has taken place in Oklahoma schools in the past few years,” said Paula Kedy, Aerospace and Aviation Education Coordinator for the agency. “I am so proud to have the opportunity to work with teachers and entities across the state that are committed to providing strong aviation STEM opportunities for students.”