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Learn To Earn - The Wealth of Wings

Malcom Forbes once said, "Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one". An open mind is empowered to absorb its environment in all aspects. That open mind in turn provokes an inquisitive mind. Furthermore, a quality education enables a person with the mental agility and capability to propel a society forward. An educated populace empowers one to be positive contributors to society through the fine arts and humanities, medical and biological sciences, and STEM. The more educated a population is, the less likely that society is inclined to be impoverished and plagued with the crime that usually correlates with poverty. Education enables society to grow by technological growth and development.

A quality education has always been the hallmark of a civilized society. Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon in the world”. STEM education provides students with a variety of valuable skills that can prepare them for higher learning and successful careers. These include not just science, technology, engineering, and math abilities, but also capabilities in critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, sound decision-making, and much more.

With the arrival of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the digitalization of commerce, autonomous vehicles, as well as cyber security being paramount, a technologically advanced population is of primary concern. The old industrial model for learning has become increasingly obsolete. The United States has come up insufficient in terms of it being a global leader in terms of education. Therefore, drastic measures must be taken so as to secure America's educational and academic preeminence.

Recently the Birmingham Southern Museum Of Flight hosted an event to promote aviation and STEM for educators at local Birmingham Schools. Approximately 30 teachers and students attended to learn about the different aviation and aerospace programs and careers that are available in these fields, as well as take a tour of the museum. The overall objective was to showcase the aviation field and present the youth and young adults with career options post high school and college.

Over the past decade and a half, there has been a massive push to promote aviation to racial minorities and women. With the 2011 release of the motion picture Red Tails, as well as the efforts of OBAP, we have seen a significant increase in the number of black commercial and military aviators, many of which are also women.

Despite these tremendous gains, there still remains demographics of children who face tangible or invisible barriers to learning in math, science, technology, and engineering. First, there are students from low-income areas and families for whom high-speed internet access, computers, and other forms of technology needed for STEM learning may be unaffordable. Then there are students attending schools in underinvested communities that may not have the funds to offer high-quality programming or resources in STEM subjects. There are those who may be disadvantaged in one or more of the above areas or who have been excluded or discouraged from STEM for reasons directly or indirectly related to their race. What the BSMOF seeks to accomplish is bridging the gap between the underserved, educators, and resources.

The immediate target demographics are students with physical or learning disabilities, female students, either as the result of direct or indirect gender bias or because they lack female role models in STEM spaces, and students who are generally unaware of the value of STEM education, its relevance to the success of their lives and careers, or the resources available to them which highlights the need for better inclusion and accessibility. Ultimately, a lack of training in science, math, technology, and engineering can negatively impact children's’ entire futures. Students who aren’t engaged in science and math subjects won’t major in them in college, meaning they won’t be able to pursue lucrative and worthwhile careers in these areas. This only widens the wage, economic, and wealth gaps that already exist.

What the BSMOF has attempted to do is convert the museum into a type of classroom beyond mere relics of aircraft. First, there has to be the creation of interest. That interest begins with teachers. From there, teachers can offer science-related programming in ways that support students of all genders, cultures, abilities, and socioeconomic levels. Students have to be shown that science is for everyone and to remove the "nerd" stigma. However, given the current state of education in Alabama, especially in the more underserved and underprivileged areas, this is often easier said than done.

Veteran educators like Tambra Clark, who is a library media specialist at South Hampton School, feels she has one of several answers. "The teachers have to make it (STEM) more appealing. If the students don't have an interest in math, you have to show how math can take you to the next level post-graduation. When it comes to aviation and building engines, you have to have some type of skill set related to mathematics" she said. Clark who has 18 years of experience in public education and is very compassionate about her role at South Hampton, is very fond of the BSMOF and sees the correlation between the museum and the STEM pathway to aviation and aerospace careers.

" I'd love for my students to gain more knowledge on how STEM is incorporated into aviation. They need to know why it's important to be exposed to STEM and the different fields in STEM as it relates to aviation", she stated. Like with any other endeavor, there has to be a creation of a thirst for knowledge and that comes from awareness and signs of success. According to Ms. Clark, "The BSMOF is a gold mine because it offers so many programs geared toward education and STEM elements." For many students over the recent years, a simple trip to the BSMOF sparked a newfound enthusiasm for flight that they previously didn't have. Every year, hundreds of boy scouts alone pass through the museum and participate in a day long program to obtain their weather and aviation badges. One of Ms. Clark's colleagues share in similar sentiments as she does.

With a recurring theme of exposure, "Students have to be shown opportunities that are presented with engineering and aerospace. Giving them the opportunity to know that they can travel the world and get a different perspective on life", explains Mr. Cory Null, a 6th grade educator at South Hampton K-8. He went to explain the full value of when students are fully exposed to options that were initially unknown to them. "Just having the opportunity to come to this great museum and see all of these modern marvels and machines, it broadens their horizons on the opportunities that could take place and broaden their imagination", he said. Mr. Nolan went on to reveal that although he's an adult, he felt like a kid being in the museum and seeing all that it has to offer in terms of what the field of aviation is all about.

The optimism that educators such as Ms. Clark and Mr. Null hold is what is necessary to meet the challenges of the 21st century public school education system in America, especially in Alabama. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP), also known as The Nation's Report Card Alabama ranks 39th in reading and 40th in math among fourth-grade students in the rankings from 2022. While Alabama's public education system has improved, it lags behind in achievement compared to other states. According to U.S. Census data from 2000, Alabama's high school graduation rate – 75% – is the second lowest in the United States, after Mississippi.

The Alabama Accountability Act requires that the Alabama State Department of Education releases an annual list of failing schools. Institutions must rank among the worst 6% of all Alabama public schools in academic achievement to be classified as failing. In all, 75 Alabama public schools are currently considered failing. Montgomery County, Birmingham City, and Mobile County School Districts had the highest number of failing schools. Hemphill Elementary School is one of Birmingham’s lowest-performing schools for K-5 kids. While 47% of the students are proficient in reading, this is far below the state’s average of 77%. Math proficiency is even worse, with just 2% of Hemphill’s students working at grade level. Student suspension is also a problem at this school. The overall suspension rate is 10%, but for students with disabilities, it jumps to 29%. Most of the student body, 91% meets the definition of low-income.

At Inglenook K-8, nearly half of the students (48%) perform at grade level in reading, but only 12% are proficient in English. An astonishing 98% of students taking Algebra 1 are passing, but only 3% of the total student body meets grade-level math expectations. Algebra I is the single most failed course in American high schools. Chronic absenteeism at Inglenook K-8 is a problem at 23%, and the suspension rate is 18%. Like many other failing schools throughout Alabama, 93% of students are from lower income households.

Just 6% of Parker’s 9th through 12th graders are proficient in English. Science proficiency is even lower, at 5%, and only 2% of students perform at grade level in math. The school’s suspension rate is 10%, but chronic absenteeism is a real problem, with nearly a third (31%) of the student body failing to maintain good attendance.

The Montgomery Independent revealed in a recent study conducted by personal finance company Wallethub, Alabama ranked as the 7th worst public school system in the nation. According to Wallethub’s findings Alabama ranks 46th in math test scores, 45th in reading test scores, 47th in student to teacher ratio, 49th in percentage of licensed or certified public K-12 teachers and 44th in median ACT scores nationwide. The only area in which Alabama ranked in the top half of states in any metric covered by the study was median SAT score where the state ranked 19th overall. There are obvious signs that there needs to be a major overhaul of not just STEM but education in the state altogether. Many of the state's dismal statistics on education run in stark contrast to a state that is home to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), which is internationally ranked and renowned for its medical programs. However, much of the fervor for higher education comes in the form of collegiate sports.

"When you say Auburn, people automatically think of football and that's fine. But people have to also know that Auburn has so much more to offer. People need exposure to multiple options and choices", says Dr. Brock Birdsong, Director of research for Auburn University Applied Research Center. Many are unaware that Auburn University's School of Aviation was ranked second among the 15 Best Aviation Colleges in 2023. Auburn was ranked The Best Flight School in the State of Alabama. It was also ranked as the 8th best flight school in the South and ranked 19th best flight school in the US. The School of Aviation offers majors in professional flight and aviation management, and minors in both aviation and professional flight are available to all students, regardless of major focus of study. Multiple U.S. airlines have signed talent pipeline agreements with the School of Aviation, including Delta, United, Southwest and JetBlue, to recruit aviation graduates to fill their flight decks. These partnerships are what attribute to helping Auburn to be one of the best aviation colleges.

As director, Dr. Birdsong oversees The Auburn University Applied Research Institute operates within the Auburn University Research and Innovation Campus in Huntsville's Cummings Research Park near the Redstone Arsenal. It is a 38,000-acre federal research, development, test and engineering center housing NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and the Army's missile, aviation and missile defense programs. At the same symposium, expressed similar sentiments. "You have to make many of these programs fun, interesting, and relevant to those who normally don't get these opportunities. You have to expose them to STEM and show them that this is where they belong and provide them with the necessary resources", Dr. Birdsong stated. Others at the symposium shared very similar points of view regarding the state's need to invest heavily in human capital in terms of education.

"At Mississippi State, we've created a K-8 curriculum that we give to the local students, we will go in and teach the classes, or we have the students and teachers come to campus and receive the training. We also have a cyber initiative training program. We have a 100,000 square foot cyber tech center adjacent to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi. We have 100+ partners throughout Mississippi that are committed to preparing the next generation for this industry", explains Mr. Rob Premo, Director for the Center for Cyber Innovation for Mississippi State University. James Martin, the Associate Vice President for Corporate Engagement and Economic Development said that "A part of that initiative is building relationships and awareness. You need to expose these kids to opportunities and go out and saying here are some opportunities in the state that you can be a part of. You can do this and do great things for the state and region".

Mr. Premo went on to relay that, "We bring kids of all ages. we teach them how to make model airplanes, how an airplane flies, and how that translates from academia to practical application. We have a workforce development program for K-8 bringing kids in. You have to build your labor force and invest in it". Mr. Martin goes on to reinforce the notion of involve me and I will learn. "With some kids, when we tell them about our Advanced Composite Manufacturing, they say I didn't know this existed. I didn't know this was a career" he said.

The BSMOF has risen to meet the needs of higher education through Snead State Community College. The Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham now serves as an off-campus instructional site for Snead State Community College’s Aviation College. The partnership in education between the Southern Museum of Flight and Snead State represents a commitment to provide training for high school students that are seeking a career in Aviation Maintenance. Teresa Walker who serves as Snead State Director of Workforce Development, Dr. Greg Randall, the Snead State along with Melissa Morgan of the BSMOF and the BSMOF Executive Director Dr. Brian Barsanti began the dual enrollment program this past May. The dual enrollment program will include the Jefferson County School System, Birmingham City School System, and the Tarrant City School System. Classes have now begun in a renovated hangar within the museum consisting of three classrooms.

Annually, hundreds of Boy Scouts attend the BSMOF for a daylong seminar in order to obtain their Weather and Aviation Merit Badges. During the daylong education seminar, the scouts get hands on tutorial and practical application training, including flight simulators and virtual reality simulators from Mr. Charlie Phillips. In order to obtain this coveted badge, a scout must complete several tasks which include how to define "aircraft" and be able to describe some kinds and uses of aircraft today. They must be able to explain the operation of piston, turboprop, and jet engines. This is just the beginning.

Scouts attempting to obtain their aviation badge must also know how to point out on a model airplane the forces that act on an airplane in flight. They must also be knowledgeable of how an airfoil generates lift, how the primary control surfaces (ailerons, elevators, and rudder) affect the airplane's attitude, and how a propeller produces thrust. Third, they must demonstrate how the control surfaces of an airplane are used for takeoff, straight climb, level turn, climbing turn, descending turn, straight descent, and landing.

Other requirements consist of knowing how to read an aeronautical chart. They must also know how to measure a true course on the chart and correct it for magnetic variation, compass deviation, and wind drift to determine a compass heading. They must also know how to explain the purposes and functions of the various instruments found in a typical single-engine aircraft: attitude indicator, heading indicator, altimeter, airspeed indicator, turn and bank indicator, vertical speed indicator, compass, navigation (GPS and VOR) and communication radios, tachometer, oil pressure gauge, and oil temperature gauge.

Weather is a major component to flying. Scouts seeking the Weather Merit Badges must undergo a detailed curriculum concerning weather. They must be able to define meteorology and explain what weather is and what climate is. They must discuss how the weather affects farmers, sailors, aviators, and the outdoor construction industry. Tell why weather forecasts are important to each of these groups. From there they must be able to name five dangerous weather-related conditions. They must also give the safety rules for each when outdoors and explain the difference between a severe weather watch and a warning.


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