Students to launch to top of aviation education

Posted: Monday, September 20, 2010

Alaska students will have the opportunity to make their math and science classes relevant, and launch into hands-on aviation and aerospace education.

Lt. Governor Craig Campbell announced the launch of the Real World Design Challenge program at a press conference in Anchorage on Friday. The program is being offered at no cost to high school students statewide.

The program focuses on using higher math and science skills students have already learned. Students will use professional engineering programs to work on an aviation challenge. Last year, the focus was on the tail of a business jet. This year the challenge will involve the wing of a Boeing 747. The project involves examining how to look for fuel efficiencies, examine the internal structure and other considerations. Campbell said further details will be released Oct. 4.

Last year, Hoonah was the only school in the state to participate in the nation-wide program.

Hoonah physics teacher Ben McLuckie and two of his students spoke about the program via a phone conference call. McLuckie said he eard about the program, but before participating felt Hoonah didn't have the resources for his students to complete a credible project. McLuckie said he found that not to be the case.

The two students said it was a stressful but rewarding program. One said the computers at the school wouldn't work with the program so they had to build their own to handle the software.

Campbell said there is a lot of tragedy in this state surrounding aviation.

"It's a very risky business," he said. "What we're trying to do is tie aviation with education. The state of Alaska has been a leader in technology to improve aviation across the state, which eventually is used across the world. It's a very technical career."

He said the goal is to get young adults involved in aviation and aerospace in a fun way that's competitive.

"You put them in teams and challenge them across the schools, but the end result is they're learning."

Larry LeDoux, Alaska Department of Early Education and Development commissioner, said he's a former science teacher and the Real World Design Challenge is a great joy to him.

"It's time for our education system to celebrate the question in knowledge," he said. "For too long it's been confined to a book. The Real World Design Challenge is designed to make learning the way it should be."

The program is supported by the U.S. Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration, the state legislature and the Alaska Department of Education.

LeDoux said the team approach allows small groups of students to compete, and even the state's smallest schools will be able to "play ball with the big leagues."

"It also supports graduation challenges," he said. "We want our graduates to think logically and critically. ... We want students who are ready to face the challenges of the next century."

He said reading, writing and math skills are only the foundation of learning - learning critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration and creativity.

"These are not skills that are limited to science," he said. "We all need them."

Real World Design Challenge Director Ralph Coppola attended the Anchorage conference. He said the nation is facing challenges in the areas of national security and economic competitiveness. He said about 54 percent of the science and technology workforce is 40 years or older.

One-third of that workforce is able to retire today, he said. Coppola added 7.5 percent of students go into engineering, but only half of that number graduate, with a degree in that field.

"So we have a pipeline that's not well filled and it's leaky," he said. "Without mathematics and engineering personnel, our national security is at risk.

Coppola said there needs to be U.S. citizens who can design planes and precision weapons the military needs. There also needs to be people who can design the next rocket to launch into outer space.

"Students compete not only with the people in other states, but literally around the world," he said of the program. "In order to be affective in that competition, we need to prepare people so they can meet the challenges of the 21st and 22nd centuries."

Coppola noted there are places all around the world that feel too remote or rural to get involved in engineering, or have access to good resources. Real World Design Challenges provides millions of dollars of engineering software to participating schools - both public and private - for the program, and has online support from many professionals in engineering specific to aviation and aerospace.

FAA Alaskan Region Administrator Bob Lewis also has high hopes for Alaskas participation in the challenge.

He said when he was sitting in class in high school, he had no idea how solving an algebraic equation would ever help him.

"We didn't have any practical application for that kind of thing," he said. "This gives the students the opportunity to take the things they learned in the classroom and apply it to a real-world application."

Lewis said the FAA is involved in implementing the next generation of air transportation systems.

"Where do you suppose all of this change began?" he asked. "It happened right here in the state of Alaska. The backbone all began right here."

Lewis said he looks around at youth in Alaska communities and sees sharp students whom he feels comfortable with the future of the nation.

"I'm excited to see this way of the future, this learning taking place," he said. "I think it will be a great help to our students. As we enter the 21st century, I think it's important we end the 21st century the same way we began it. The United States needs to be the leader in aerospace technology. I'm excited to think about what will be happening. The opportunities are there."

Schools interested in participating need to have a teacher set up a team at and register as many students as they'd like in grades nine through 12. Free training is available online and once staff goes through training, software is available. There is no limit to the number of teams a school can have.

For more information go to

• Contact Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at

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