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Up, Up, and Away: Engineering in Action Soars to New Heights

Author: Matt Gustafson, Program Coordinator

A Legacy Academy student tests the flight simulator.

Have you ever wondered what it takes to fly? This year, through a new partnership with SJSU Aviation Professor Francesca Favaro, students from San José High School and Legacy Academy learned all about it — from navigation to mapping to sitting in the pilot seat of a flight simulator.

In partnership with SJSU Aviation and Technology, CommUniverCity’s hands-on Engineering in Action program is piloting two new aviation-focused projects: Teacher for a Day and STEM Take Off.

What is Engineering in Action?

According to the U. S. Department of Labor, Latinx and African American students comprise less than 20% of college students majoring in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields and less than 5% of the STEM workforce. CommUniverCity’s Engineering in Action program addresses this challenge by providing after-school enrichment that ignites a passion for science and technology in Central San José youth. In this program, k-12 students participate in hands-on workshops to learn fundamental engineering concepts ranging from propulsion to product design.

Working in collaborative teams, SJSU Engineering students design and deliver lesson content with an emphasis on presenting material using fun and accessible teaching strategies. CommUniverCity staff organize and facilitate the workshops, which last year were held in over a dozen elementary schools and after-school centers in Central San José and at San José High School.

Teacher for a Day with SJSU Aviation

SJSU Aviation majors teach a prepared lesson on aviation navigation to a student in San José High School’s robotics club.

Teacher for a Day fast facts:

  • 28 program participants
  • 36 SJSU community-engaged learners

Teacher for a Day, a collaboration between the SJSU Aviation Program and CommUniverCity, is a hands-on program in which students serve as “teachers for one day” and teach aviation navigation basics to robotics students at San Jose High School. It’s a unique opportunity that allows SJSU students to critically understand their area of study while inspiring younger students in a subject that they love.

“I get to give back to the community in my area of expertise that I love.”

Aviation SJSU Senior

Aviation professor Francesca Favaro worked with her AVIA 2 (Introduction to Aviation) class to develop a lesson and assignment for the high school students. The class was joined by some seniors and members of the SJSU Precision Flight Team. The ultimate goal is to inspire high school students, already expressing interest in engineering, to explore STEM fields after finishing high school.

“I enjoyed talking to the students who seemed particularly interested in the program. It was also nice to bounce ideas off of my peers when talking about some similar experiences we’ve all had in the program thus far.”

Aviation SJSU Sophomore

STEM Take Off

Students from Legacy Academy learn how a wind tunnel works.

STEM Take Off fast facts:

  • 12 community participants
  • 8 SJSU community-engaged learners
  • 87.5% of program participants enjoyed the program

As part of Professor Francesca Favaro’s introductory Aviation course, AVIA 02, SJSU students are introduced to the basics of aviation and navigation. They learn to read a Sectional Chart, understand flight routes two locations, and how to make critical decisions related to navigating the skies.

“It was nice to see kids excited to learn about aviation and aerodynamics. They absolutely love using the flight simulator!”

STEM Take Off program volunteer

Toward the end of the semester, 8th grade students from Legacy Academy visited the SJSU Aviation Lab to receive fun and informative lessons prepared by AVIA 02 students. SJSU students paired off with Legacy Academy students to teach a one-hour lesson on navigation basics. In addition to learning how to read sectional charts like a real aviation navigator, students got to explore some more interactive “toys” in the lab, like the wind tunnel and the flight simulator.

As one volunteer noted, “It was nice to see kids excited to learn about aviation and aerodynamics. They absolutely love using the flight simulator!” It’s exposure like this that helps inspire youth to discover interest in STEM fields they may never have considered.

Inspiring the next generation

The beauty of this program is multifold. First, elementary and high school students in underserved communities become exposed to basic engineering principles in aerodynamics as well as their real-world applications. The exposure serves to ‘demystify’ engineering and encourages them to consider engineering and science as academic pathways.

Second, SJSU engineering students obtain valuable experience in group collaboration, project design, and oral communication (e.g., learning how to explain complex ideas to a general audience). They also serve as near peer mentors to younger minority students, helping promote a college-going culture in our neighborhoods.

We look forward to building on EIA Aviation’s early successes in the upcoming semester. Up, up, and away!

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