Aerospace Career Day gets students interested in aviation industry
Students from across the Midlands got an up close look at careers in the aerospace industry Friday as Richland One’s Challenger Learning Center held its fifth annual Aerospace Career Day.
More than 400 high school students met representatives of companies which offer careers in aviation and of colleges and universities which offer the degrees needed to obtain those jobs.
“South Carolina is home to more than 466 aerospace companies, ranging from design firms and service providers to manufacturers and distributors,” said Dr. Carolyn Donelan, the Challenger Learning Center’s lead flight director. “Whether someone is interested in working in the Upstate, the Midlands, or the Coast, there are aerospace companies looking for great employees.”
Donelan said the aerospace industry in South Carolina is thriving, fueled by companies like Boeing.
More than 53,000 people are directly employed by civilian aerospace companies and military aviation facilities in South Carolina, according to The South Carolina Council on Competitiveness.
The average salary for those workers is about $71,000.
“A lot of students aren’t aware about the number of jobs available in South Carolina for aerospace and the fact that there are so many jobs being created,” Donelan said. “Aerospace is this booming business in South Carolina.”
The Challenger Learning Center was founded in 1996 to prepare Richland One students for aerospace careers. Students can study physics, robotics, model rocketry and use flight simulators.
Donelan said the center offers “any hands-on science stuff to get kids excited about it with a little bit of aerospace twist just so they can see that this is fun and people get paid to do this for a living.”
Students had a chance to tour the Challenger Learning Center and meet with representatives Boeing, the Federal Aviation Administration, Lockheed Martin, the South Carolina Fire Academy (Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting), the U.S. AeroTech Institute, West Star Aviation and WeylChem.
Representatives of the University of South Carolina College of Engineering and Computing, Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics, Midlands Technical College, the College of Charleston and Greenville Technical College spoke to students about aviation and avionics degrees, as well as training programs dedicated to filling aerospace jobs in South Carolina.
Agencies including the Richland County Sheriff’s Department displayed aviation equipment used in their departments. Recruiters and other representatives from the Army, Navy and Air Force were on hand to talk about the role of aircraft in defense.
“Everybody has an opportunity. You just have to prepare yourself,” said Frank Hatten, education specialist at Boeing.
Many students said they were unaware of the variety of jobs related to the aerospace industry.
“Me and my friends thought it would be just planes,” said Tadestiny Simpson-Veal, a ninth grader at Blythewood Academy.
She said the experience at Challenger Learning Center taught her that she could achieve her goals, one being to study at North Carolina Central University.
“Chase my dreams,” she said.
Others said Aerospace Career Day piqued their interest in pursuing STEM careers in college and reminded them that courses in math and science were crucial to obtaining those jobs.
“I was really, really excited when I met a female engineer because there aren’t many female engineers. She gave me a lot of information I needed to know,” said Ebony Beckham, a senior at the Blythewood Academy. “I feel like I can become an engineer because I feel like I have what it takes.”