Forty-five years ago last month, millions of people around the world watched on television as the U.S. Apollo and U.S.S.R. Soyuz spacecraft docked to mark the first historic international space mission and what is generally considered the end of the Space Race. The Apollo module was commanded by Oklahoma favorite son, General Thomas P. Stafford. Stafford also commanded Apollo 10 that mapped the landing site for Apollo 11 that landed the first man on the Moon and was that giant leap for mankind. Stafford has helped to establish Oklahoma as a national leader in the aerospace and aviation industry. “The United States is still the only nation to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth, and we did it several times. That remarkable achievement, the success of our Space Program, and our robust aerospace industry would not be possible without the scientists, engineers, technicians, and other workers that built and maintained the spacecraft and aircraft, and administered the systems necessary for their operation. An adequate and competent workforce is the key, and aviation education programs like that of the Aeronautics Commission are critical to helping ensure that we have that workforce,” said Stafford.
This spring and summer have marked some of the most challenging times the aviation and aerospace industry has ever experienced. The industry has been knocked down and behind the power-curve before: pre-WWII aircraft technology and readiness, the early days of the space race with the Soviet Union, 9/11 and the effects on commercial aviation, and the 2008 Great Recession. In all those downtrodden moments for the industry, however, there are two great things that standout, first, aviation and aerospace has always turned things around and come out on top for the better, and second, a high-quality, well educated workforce was the main source behind that turnaround.
This workforce, and the need to attract new talent is the reason why the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission (OAC) believes this is the perfect time to invest in our future and inspire today’s youth to become pilots, engineers, mechanics, astronauts, and scientists. The Commission is determined to focus on vectoring young minds towards the exploration of aviation and aerospace through their nationally recognized and award winning education grant program.
This year, thirty-eight different entities were awarded Aerospace and Aviation Education Program grants totaling over $335,400 from the Commission. The record amount of funding will be used to bring more students in Oklahoma to STEM careers, particularly those in aerospace and aviation. The funding was approved by the Commission at its most recent meeting.
Grants are awarded for targeted learning programs that have a direct application to aerospace and aviation for primary through post-secondary education. The grant funds are part of the agency’s initiative to give more Oklahoma young people access to STEM careers in the aerospace and aviation industry.
Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Tim Gatz said, “Transportation is the backbone of our national and state economies, moving people, goods, and services across our country and state. Aviation plays an indispensable role in our transportation system. I appreciate OAC’s nationally-recognized programs that promotes aviation careers.”
Oklahoma’s Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Sean Kouplen supports OAC’s record investment in its aviation education program and believes it comes at a critical time to ensure a workforce to help the aerospace industry come back from the impact of COVID-19.
“Aerospace and aviation is our state’s second largest industry yielding an annual economic impact of $44 billion. We need to continue to make these record investments in our workforce in order for Oklahoma to continue to provide top aerospace jobs in the country,” Kouplen said.
“Aviation and Aerospace is a huge economic engine in our state providing 206,000 direct and indirect jobs. For commerce and communities a safe, reliable, and accessible aviation system is critical. The Commission is pleased that its aviation and aerospace education program encourages young and adult Oklahomans to consider aviation and aerospace as a career. Funding requests totaled over $682,000 this year, which exemplifies the importance of aviation and the realization that an adequate workforce is the lifeblood of the industry,” said Director of Aeronautics Victor Bird.
Charged with the mission by state statute, the Commission, which invests more money in aerospace and aviation education than any other state, encourages students to consider aerospace or aviation as a career. The Commission’s education grant program has over 30 years of positive results. The initiative supports the Oklahoma Works project that aims to address the skills gap and connect students to programs that will help build the workforce of Oklahoma’s second largest industry.
The Commission’s program has been nationally recognized, enjoying a positive reputation of investing more in aerospace and aviation education than any other state. Since FY2001, it has awarded over $2.8M in aerospace and aviation education grants.
In order for a program to qualify for an aviation education grant or contract, it must meet certain requirements. Most importantly, the program must demonstrate that its curriculum and goals are geared toward aviation and aerospace.
The following grants were approved by OAC Commissioners on August 12:
Ada City School District, $25,000
Alva High School, $2,500
Atoka Elementary School, $2,000
Bishop John Carroll Cathedral School, $1,100
Boys and Girls Club of Oklahoma County, $15,000
Cameron University, $1,500
Class Matters, $2,700
Davenport Public Schools, $8,000
Dove Science Academy High School, $6,650
El Reno Regional Airport, $2,300
FIRST Robotics Competition, $7,500
Girl Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma, $2,500
Gordon Cooper Technology Center, $3,000
Grand Aces Aviation Ground School, $1,750
Guthrie Edmond Regional Airport, $1,150
KISS Institute for Practical Robotics, $7.500
McAlester High School, $5,000
MetroTechnology Center, and the FAA Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, $13,250
Metro Tech STEM Mobile Lab, $10,000
Mid-Del Technology Center, $4,000
Mustang High School, $5,000
Newspapers in Education Institute, $5,000
Oilton Public Schools, $3,000
Oklahoma CareerTech Foundation, $10,000
Oklahoma Engineering Foundation, Inc., $5,000
Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics Foundation, $1,500
Oklahoma Science and Engineering Foundation, $5,000
Oklahoma State University, Speedfest, $9,000
Okmulgee High School, $5,000
Ponca City Regional Airport, $8,500
Putnam City High School (Air Force JROTC), $12,000
Rose State College, $13,500
Southeastern Oklahoma State University, $6,500
STARBASE Oklahoma Inc., $25,000
STARR Solutions (Tinker Air and Space Show), $28,000
Tulsa Air and Space Museum, $10,000
Tulsa Community WorkAdvance, $15,00
University of Oklahoma, Sooner Flight Academy, $46,000