When most students fill out an application for a summer aviation camp, some really have no idea of what to expect if they are selected. Fifty-two students from around the Oklahoma City area including several from Edmond were among the top candidates chosen from over 100 submitted applications.  

Edmond students attending are the following: Aaron Pan, Heartland Middle School; Addison Gibson, Deer Creek Middle School; Emma Dindoyal, Sequoyah Middle School; Jacob Meng, Cheyenne Middle School; Rena Cole, Epic Charter School; Sam Ghazanfari, Cimarron Middle School; Avie Krebs, OCS; Benjamin Aquino, homeschool; Carson McCachern, Deer Creek Middle School; Gavin Bishop, homeschool; Pranay Patlolla, Summit Middle School; and Sourish Pasula, Deer Creek Middle School.

For the 14th consecutive year, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center and the Metro Technology Center Aviation Campus partnered together to host an amazing aviation and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) experience for some of the state’s middle school students. Funding from the camp is made possible by a grant from the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission to the Metro Technology Center.

The goal of the camp is to expose Oklahoma’s youth to the kinds of careers available in STEM and inform them about the dire need for pilots, mechanics, and air traffic controllers in our aviation and aerospace industry.

Two weeks out of every summer, campers converge on the aviation campus of Metro Tech, located northwest of Will Rogers World Airport. Twenty-six seventh and eighth graders help to comprise each camp. The students participate in a myriad of activities, revealing to them hundreds of different occupations in aviation. The campers learn about hot air balloons, unmanned aerial systems, rockets, aviation as it relates to commercial, corporate and military aircraft, helicopters, and that’s only the beginning.  They get hands-on experience in naming and understanding parts of an airplane, learning how to read an aeronautical chart, gaining experience in riveting sheet metal, building and coding robots, taxiing an aircraft, and on the last day of camp they learn about NASA and astronomy.

This year, both camps had the fortunate opportunity to have special guests visit the camp.  During both camps, Astronaut Scott D. Altman, who was the pilot of Space Shuttle Columbia in 1998 during the STS-90, the Neurolab mission, where they studied the effects of microgravity on the brain and the human nervous system, opted to pay a visit to these camps. In 2000, Altman was the pilot of Atlantis during a 12-day mission to prepare the International Space Station for the arrival of the first permanent crew.  On his final two missions, he commanded Columbia in 2002, which was the fourth mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. When he commanded Atlantis on the STS-125, it was the fifth and final mission to service the space telescope which extended its useful lifetime.  

“Scooter” as Altman is often called, interacted with each of the campers, giving further insight into their NASA and astronomy lessons while lending words of encouragement along the way. Many were intrigued to learn that he had a role in flying the F-14 for the filming of the 1986 movie Top Gun.

“It was incredible. Most Navy pilots don’t get to buzz an air traffic control tower, like was done in that movie. But since it was Hollywood, they wanted nine different takes,” Altman shrugs with a smile.

During the second week of ACE camp, Oklahoma State Senator Adam Pugh of Edmond participated in the graduation activities. Senator Pugh has served in the Oklahoma Legislature since 2016 and is a member of the Senate Appropriations and Transportation Committees. He brought his love of aviation, his experience as a former member of the Air Force E-3 AWACS crew and shared the challenges of growing up in a single-parent home, getting into and paying for college, and how ROTC helped in his career choices. Senator Pugh also stayed to take pictures and present each camper with their certificate of completion.

“We are so fortunate to have these vital partnerships that reinforce our ability to provide the next generation with ideas, encouraging curiosity and innovation, and inspiring our future generations to possess skills that revolve around STEM,” said Michelle Coppedge, director of the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center. “It is such a rare opportunity to get to talk to an astronaut, so it’s very exciting that these students get to learn first-hand from someone who’s been through the program and has traveled to space, and can speak directly about their experience. We are honored for such participation in our program.” 

“Currently there is a deficit of professionals with the skills needed to keep our industry moving forward, while positively impacting our economy. Research indicates that we need to produce a highly skilled and educated workforce; one that enables us as a nation to better compete on a global scale,” Coppedge said. “Hands on camps, like the FAA’s and Metro Technology’s Aviation Career Education (ACE) Camp help our young people think critically, increase their science literacy, and provides them with life skills for innovation, as proven by making STEM-related activities fun and interesting.

“As parents and as members of a community, we have an obligation to help raise our children to be responsible and engaged contributors to the well being of our society.  Creative attention must be devoted to our young people to help spark their interests, mold their capacities and decision-making capabilities, all while awakening them to some of the many possibilities in our world.”

Employees from the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center and the Metro Technology Center Aviation campus volunteer their time and energy to assist with this annual camp. 

“This really is a win-win partnership. The camp concept has been fine-tuned over the years, and we are beginning to see that our years of investing in this program are finally paying off,” said Tim Fannin, director of the Metro Technology Center Aviation Campus.  

Former campers are making decisions to follow a career in occupations like aerospace, engineering, they are joining the military and becoming aircraft mechanics, and some are training to become air traffic controllers. 

“It’s exciting when we learn that someone has found a career path that they are passionate about, only to learn that it was this camp that sparked their initial interest,” Fannin said.

During the second camp’s graduation, a few returning ACE Camp Alumni contributed to their past participation in the camp. Brennan Myers, a former camper sent a letter to share his experience:

During camp, students are required to do research on an Oklahoma aviator and Brennan chose Thomas P. Stafford. 

“I was so impressed with our Oklahoma astronaut, Thomas P. Stafford that I read his book and wrote many reports about his career … As I look back now, each of the (camp’s) events changed my life in one way or another. I started flight lessons at age 16, and am completing my private pilot certificate this summer, and am attending college to become a commercial pilot. I like the idea of flying for FedEx, as boxes don’t care about turbulence. I will become a pilot. As for what I end up doing with it, that has yet to be written, but I assure you it will be a career in aviation.”

Jacquelyn Harsha, a former camper and the daughter of a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel made a personal appearance at graduation and gave a testimony as to how the camp helped further shape her impressions about aviation. Inspired to be in the military, she joined the Civil Air Patrol when she was 12 years old and worked her way up to OK-81 Cadet Captain. She recently earned a full ride scholarship in the U.S. Air Force ROTC program at Oklahoma State University. 

With aspirations of being in the military and joining the Space Corp, Jackie reiterates, “It’s important to join everything you can, to get a taste of it. There are inspirations for us all along the way.”

The camp solicits for applications every spring through the FAA’s Aviation and Space Education (AVSED) website and through another partner, the Oklahoma Engineering Foundation (OEF).  Aviation is the second largest industry in the state of Oklahoma, and the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center is the 4th largest employer in Oklahoma City.  According to Victor Bird, Director of the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission, “There are almost 240,400 jobs in the state of Oklahoma that are supported by or that benefit from aviation and aerospace.”

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