College & Workforce Readiness

Will It Fly? South Carolina High Schools to Launch Aerospace Curriculum

By Brenda Iasevoli — June 28, 2017 3 min read
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This fall, five South Carolina high schools will offer an aerospace curriculum to develop the next generation of aviation technology talent in a state where officials say the industry is thriving.

South Carolina’s department of education will award these high schools $50,000 each to incorporate an aerospace curriculum that teaches the ins and outs of aircraft design. With this effort, the state joins a trend in high schools across the country to better prepare students for local jobs, while also helping them to build skills needed in college and in life.

The curriculum provides students the opportunity to design, build, and test a pilot seat in the intro to Fundamentals of Aerospace Technology, and an airplane wing in the advanced course. Next up, students will learn to fly using simulators in Aeronautics Engineering Applications class. In the final course, Astronautics Engineering Applications, students design a laser communication system and develop a plan for space survival. All aerospace courses integrate math, science, and literacy, but students will still have to take standalone courses in the traditional subjects in order to graduate.

"[The aerospace] courses not only prepare students for post-secondary success but also teach them critical skills needed to fill jobs in one of our state’s most thriving industries,” said South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman in a statement. “This is another great example of South Carolina’s leadership and collaborative approach that will ultimately lead to a concentration of highly skilled talent in our state.”

Teachers will get training in how to teach these courses at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. To qualify, they’ll need strong math skills and experience in career education. Candidates will spend two weeks over the summer learning how to teach each course and to use a project-based approach. The training for teachers involves tackling the same design projects their students will eventually have to do.

The more than 400 aerospace companies in South Carolina, including Boeing and Lockheed Martin, have overseen an average employment growth rate of 11.4 percent since 2010. That’s eight times higher than the average annual growth rate for the state overall, according to SC Aerospace, a group that works to expand the aerospace industry and its talent pipeline. SC Aerospace recommended the curriculum to South Carolina’s department of education in December 2016.

Private-sector aerospace jobs pay on average $70,000 a year, according to SC Aerospace, whereas the state’s average annual pay is just $41,000. “For young people who may be attracted to this high-tech, steadily growing industry, I can tell you that if you learn skills to work on or around airplanes, it’s likely you’ll have a well-paid job for life,” said Steve Townes, chairman of SC Aerospace and president and CEO of Ranger Aerospace in Greenville, S.C.

South Carolina projects it will have 20 new positions every year specifically for aerospace engineers, up until 2018, and 10 new positions yearly over the long-term,.according to data the state supplied to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the curriculum aims to prepare students to compete for a broader range of careers within the aerospace industry: aircraft mechanic, air traffic controller, technical writer, radar technician, pilot, drone designer, as well as aerospace engineer.

What’s more, the skills that students master under the aerospace curriculum are transferrable to jobs in advanced manufacturing, which also has a strong presence in South Carolina, according to Summer Ramsey, the director of communications for the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness.

But Ramsey also stressed that the curriculum fosters skills that students need no matter which direction they choose after high school. “The curriculum will instill teamwork, communication, determination,” she said. “These soft skills are just as important as content knowledge in today’s economy for students, whether they’re competing for jobs or pursuing higher education.”

The curriculum, which was developed by the Southern Regional Education Board to improve career and technical education, will be offered in an additional South Carolina high school in 2018. The curriculum has already been adopted by schools in Ohio, North Carolina, Delaware, West Virginia and Alabama.

Image by Bill Abbott on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.