By Kathryn Coulibaly

For the past four years, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township has hosted Aviation STEM Day. It’s a chance for high school students interested in careers in aviation to learn more about the professional opportunities available to them through the tech center.

In 2019, more than 300 students participated in Aviation STEM Day. Students are issued a boarding pass, and they punch the areas they visit. In each area, they listen to short presentations from experts, ask questions and participate in simulations. The students learn about research and development, communications, navigation, surveillance, automation, weather, NAS storyboard, and modeling and simulation, among other topics.

“The FAA maintains the world’s safest, most efficient aviation system,” said Lyndsay Digneo, aviation STEM program manager for the Tech Center. “The Tech Center is a huge employer in the area and we want to show students that a career in aviation doesn’t just mean becoming a pilot or an air traffic controller.”

“At the Tech Center, we are conducting research, development, testing and evaluation that impacts the rest of the country,” Digneo said. “This is an exciting opportunity to learn more about the kind of innovative work being done in aviation safety, human safety, software, structures, propulsion and airports right here in South Jersey.”

Students met with experts in a variety of subject areas, including art. Mary Beth Moschouris is a motion designer who works for Veracity Engineering, which works with the FAA to create videos explaining how systems work. Moschouris talked to students about commercial space transportation and showed them an animated video she worked on to help illustrate how the complex system functions.

Cumberland County Technical Education Center teacher Carlos Morales with Geraldine Abreu, one of the many aviation experts who presented at Aviation STEM Day.

“There’s a place for everyone at the Tech Center and we need a wide variety of backgrounds,” Moschouris said.

Carlos Morales, a computer science teacher at Cumberland County Technical Education Center in Vineland, brought his students to Aviation STEM Day to show them the practical application of the concepts they study in the classroom.

“We’ve been doing a lot of Java-based work and my students are seeing how a lot of the people here at the Tech Center use Java to analyze data,” Morales said.

“I would definitely recommend this program to other educators,” Morales said. “This is our first year participating, but I’m planning to bring more students back next year.

Morales’s students share his enthusiasm.

“I can see myself pursuing a career at the Tech Center,” said Julie Zhu. “I think it’s the perfect place for me.”

“I really like math and it was interesting to see all the careers I could pursue at the Tech Center that use math,” said Seth Coward. “It’s not every day you get to go to a government building and talk about the cutting-edge technology they use.”

“I love coding and it was cool to see how I could connect that with the work that’s done here,” said Daisy Siedlecki. “It was interesting to see how many women are employed here. It makes me feel more confident about the possibility of having a career in this field.”

Aviation STEM Day is not the only program the tech center offers. Year-round, the tech center conducts site visits and sends Aviation STEM Ambassadors out to schools to do presentations on a variety of topics, demonstrating how their work relates to math and science. In addition, these ambassadors participate in career days and are available to judge science fairs and conduct assemblies.

“We want to share these resources with NJEA members because educators are great messengers for encouraging students to seriously consider careers in aviation and STEM,” said Digneo. “We have great resources available to teachers in New Jersey. We want to get the word out so that more educators take advantage of these opportunities for their students.”

If you are interested in learning more about the Aviation STEM Program or participating in future events, email 9-ACT-AvSTEM@faa.gov.

Kathryn Coulibaly is the associate editor of the NJEA Review and provides content and support to njea.org. She can be reached at kcoulibaly@njea.org.

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