We’ve all heard about STEM education. The acronym STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.
So why has there been all this attention given to teaching STEM curriculums in the classroom? The answer is simple. Although the US has historically led the world in these areas, that’s potentially no longer the case. Fewer students are choosing these fields as a career path.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, fewer than 20% of high school students are interested in a STEM-based career, and upon graduation, fewer than that will have a proven proficiency in mathematics.
The US ranks 27th among developed nations in the percentage of college students receiving undergraduate degrees in science or engineering. And, today there are more foreign students studying in US graduate schools than US students. More than two-thirds of the engineers who receive Ph.D.s from US universities are not US citizens.
The result is that today the US ranks 52nd in the quality of mathematics and science education compared with other nations, and fifth in overall global competitiveness. That number is declining.
What does all this have to do with model aviation? Maybe everything. There are dozens of examples of people who have had successful careers in the STEM fields whose interest was first sparked by a model airplane. Neil Armstrong, Burt Rutan, Dr. Paul McCready, and five-time Space Shuttle commander and pilot Robert “Hoot” Gibson are all aerospace notables who used model aviation as a stepping stone to successful aviation or aerospace careers. Today, Hoot Gibson serves as AMA’s national ambassador.
Education outreach has always been an important part of AMA. We’ve been recognized many times throughout the years for our work, and are probably most proud of having received the Frank G. Brewer Trophy from the National Aeronautic Association. The Brewer Trophy is awarded annually for significant contributions of enduring value to aerospace education in the US.
AMA was recently awarded a significant grant from the Alcoa Foundation that will allow us to develop additional programs that will use model aviation as a tool to teach STEM disciplines. These programs will be built on the success of the AMA’s AeroLab Program and the Flight Adventures Program that was a collaborative effort between AMA, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, and NASA.
Programming is only part of the equation for success. The other part is our clubs and members who introduce model aviation in their communities using AMA programming as a foundation. Many of our clubs already have programs that do this and countless ones have been exceptionally successful.
The benefits are twofold. Of course, the primary objective is to teach and help educate. At the same time, parents appreciate others who take time to help their children and these parents will likely be the first to step up in support of a club when the club is faced with the potential of losing a flying site or having to find a new one.
The aerospace industry is concerned about from where the next generation of aviation and aerospace engineers will come. During the Apollo era, the average age of a NASA engineer was in his or her late 20s. Today the average age of that same engineer is in the mid-50s.
We’ve recently seen a resurgence of interest in model aviation by high school and college students as a result of new technologies. AMA is perfectly positioned to plant the seed in these students as well in students at the elementary and middle school levels. Although the task of reversing a concerning trend in the declining interest in STEM education seems daunting, we have a role to play if we’re willing to accept that responsibility.
AMA’s Education department is a resource that’s available to our members to help bring educational outreach using model aviation to our communities. Consider taking advantage of what AMA has to offer and, if you don’t yet have such an education program, consider implementing one within your club.
It requires some work, but the rewards are significant. And, who knows, you may be responsible for helping the US retain its position as a world leader in the aerospace field.
See you next time …