The Eastern Carolina Aviation Heritage Foundation has launched a traveling program to promote education in science, technology, engineering and math in an attempt to encourage students to consider the careers that depend on it.

The Eastern Carolina Aviation Heritage Foundation has launched a traveling program to promote education in science, technology, engineering and math in an attempt to encourage students to consider the careers that depend on it.

A $50,000 grant from the Harold Bate Foundation is funding the marketing and outreach project.

Amanda Ohlensehlen, a member of the foundation, said the program is geared toward students from the fourth through the eighth grades.

The first of the programs was presented to students at Tucker Creek Middle School on Nov. 15, with another presentation following later at Arapahoe Charter School in Pamlico County. Other schools in surrounding counties are also on the schedule.

“We are trying to promote how STEM education relates to aviation and the role that it plays in the variety of careers that exist in our region,” Ohlensehlen said. “We’re just trying to connect the dots and bring the history and heritage of Marine Corps aviation to schools and bring out real live folks that can talk about what they do on a daily basis.

“We want to get kids talking about course work and asking questions and studying and building a foundation for what they will use in their future lives.”

Developing a solid foundation in science, technology, engineering and math is vital also for everyday problems, according to Tom Braaten, a retired Marine Corps major general who has been helping with the foundation’s outreach programs.

“It’s important for everything we do in life, not just aviation” said Braaten, a former Cherry Point commanding general and the current director of the Coastal Carolina Regional Airport. “We’re talking aviation things, but you use STEM in everything you do. At the airport now, I use it for basic things like when I need to check on the height of a tree. I can have somebody climb up the tree and run down a line to me or I can use a little math and figure out how tall the tree is by running some angles and things and save a lot of time.

“It’s that. It’s making change. It’s all the things we rely on. The GPS and all these electronic things aren’t going to always be available, so you have to know how things work and we want to generate curiosity. Kids should be asking ‘Why does it do that?’ And if they study what some people consider the tougher subjects, they’ll be able to figure out themselves why it happens that way, and life just becomes more interesting and it opens doors.”

The programs are about 40-minutes in length and includes about a 10-minute video that has been produced using some of the foundation’s historical materials.

“We were blessed to have Ron England, from the CarolinaEast Health System, to volunteer his time along with the support of Matthew Carter, from the city of Havelock, and the Havelock News, who contributed art and digital pictures, so that we could tell the whole story and give the children in the school system the opportunity to see the impact that a Marine Corps air station has on their region,” said Georgiana Bowman Bircher, a consultant for the project. “We’ve been working on this project four months, and at minimum we have 2,000 hours in this video production. We took seven hours of interview time and have condensed it into about 10 minutes.

“We had a story to tell. We had to make sure that what we kept was really relevant to the story we wanted to tell and at the same time was captivating to the youthful audience that we were going to be showing it to.”

Andrew Scott, of New Bern, manager for the new engineering program and employee at Fleet Readiness Center East at Cherry Point, told the children about his career as an aerospace engineer and took questions. Scott is one of several volunteers who will be part of the programs because their jobs correspond in some way with STEM education.

“We’re very interested in STEM outreach and getting involved in local schools and doing anything that we can do to encourage and promote engineering, science and math opportunities,” Scott said. “It’s definitely a growing career field, not only in the United States but in the whole world. Anything that we can do to make a light bulb go off in these students’ heads, we’ve done our job.”

An added benefit in the programs is raising awareness of the foundation’s exhibits at the Havelock Tourist and Event Center.

“We encourage the students and the parents to go to the Havelock Tourist and Events Center where we have the aircraft on display that many of the interview subjects in our video are talking about and working on, where you can get up close and see, touch and feel what it would be like to work in that environment,” Ohlensehlen said.

Braaten said he hoped the children would get curious after seeing the program and visit the machines on display at the tourist center, where they can have a lot of questions answered.

“Why do they have the wings? How come the end of it bends up like that? How come the intake is so big? How much air actually goes in there? They start making the mind work and asking the questions, and if they don’t have the answers then they have to go look up the answers,” he said. “Then they say if I take this in class and get serious about education then I can figure a lot of this stuff out and the world is a whole lot more interesting.”

If the youngsters do well in STEM education, they will be prepared for jobs at FRC East, or in the U.S. Marine Corps or Air Force, or in other high-paying and rewarding fields, Braaten said.

“You’ve got to start them as young as you can,” Braaten said. “It’s not just the Aviation Heritage Foundation. It’s obviously what the teachers are doing. It’s parents. It’s the peers. All of them need to get excited about doing this, and then we get a smarter, more educated populous and the country grows.