Students of the Sky
NEXTGEN Aviators aims to take learning to new heights
Inquiring minds wanted to know: Has anyone ever fallen asleep on one of these things?
The small plane has just finished taxiing after a roughly 15-minute, 1,200-foot-high flight over Harrisonburg, Va. and surrounding Rockingham County when deboarding youths from a local private school aired their final line of questions.
“Yeah, but hopefully not the pilot,” one of the two navigators answers about slumbering amid clouds.
This brief exchange plays into a much bigger picture. Young and old, we’re all fascinated by airplanes, be it the grandeur of their construction or the tiniest details, such as whether one can catch some z’s while aboard.
The time has come to capitalize on this marvel at Dynamic Aviation, a worldwide leader in special-mission aviation solutions for government and commercial customers. Through its NEXTGEN Aviators program and generosity of partner sponsors, it is taking students to the skies as part of an immersive, hands-on experience in which they begin to realize their own limitless potential.
“Kids cannot be what they cannot see,” President and CEO Michael Stoltzfus says.
FANNING THE FLAMES
In late August, at its corporate headquarters in Rockingham County, Dynamic hosted its first NEXTGEN event, attracting more than 220 students from nearby Blue Ridge Christian School and two local homeschool cooperatives. At that time, NEXTGEN already had commitments to host or visit about 7,500 middle and high school-age students around Virginia.
During an action-packed, three-hour session, students rotated through a series of technical stations, boarded a vintage World War II-era DC-3, took flight in a Beechcraft King Air 90 and visited a trailer with a dozen flight simulators. For some, it was their first time in an airplane. For all, it was their inaugural, detailed look at the ins and outs of aerodynamics, avionics and more.
“I think this is amazing,” says Andrea Rhodes, one of the homeschool coordinators. “It’s inspiring dreams for their career and for life. It’s giving them something to look forward to or inspire to be.”
NEXTGEN’s primary goal is not to spur the next generation of pilots or airline mechanics, though organizers would be happy to see an influx of newfound interest. The mission is broader. Stoltzfus says the lessons taught are focused on creating momentum to address an increasing number of unfilled positions in construction trades, transportation and logistics, manufacturing and STEM-related positions.
“We have a huge workforce problem locally and nationwide across multiple industries,” he says. “What we have found is that aviation; it’s very technical in nature. It’s STEM, but also many of the basics, bending metal, electrical work and hydraulics. Much of what we do with aircraft is similar in nature to what is done in these other industries.”
“We’re fanning the flame for what it is these students were created to be.”
Anthony Whitehead, NEXTGEN’s relations and engagement specialist, says: “Even if nothing about this sticks, it’s a positive experience. They’re learning something about themselves.”
BRINGING NEXTGEN TO YOU
Within the next three years, Stoltzfus says the goal is to take NEXTGEN up and down the East Coast. To do so, it will need buy-in from teachers and school administrators — so far, so good there — and then airports large enough to host, which organizers are pleasantly surprised to find is not a major issue even in more rural spots.
A greater need is partners to cover the cost of the program, at $150 per student. In addition to being included in promotional efforts for NEXTGEN, partners are invited to participate in a career fair at each event, putting them face-to-face with the future workforce.
“It’s like a heart-and-soul partnership. There are partners for who the gift of giving is just who they are. It comes from a generous heart,” Stoltzfus says. “For small, local businesses, it’s a unique way to give back.We want anybody that [has] this in their heart.”
Stoltzfus’ father and uncle founded Dynamic Aviation in 1967, instilling a “grow your own” mentality among its employees that continues today. The culture is based on hiring young people and giving them the opportunity to develop.
“It’s who we are,” Stoltzfus says.
NEXTGEN is a natural offshoot. It’s waking up the next generation of trade workers and those in transportation and logistics, and STEM positions, playing off human nature’s allure with airplanes.
“We’re making aluminum hurl through space,” says Shane Combs, NEXTGEN’s director of partner relations and marketing. “It’s a guaranteed attraction.”
To learn more about NEXTGEN Aviators, visit nextgenaviators.aero.
Preston Knight is public relations coordinator at Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative.