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Education: Even paper airplanes require STEM skills
By Emily Topper
With 15 minutes and a few sheets of paper, Boeing put the future workforce to the test.
Teams of middle school students from the Georgetown County School District rushed to budget for, build and fly Boeing paper airplanes. As students quickly realized, it was a project that required a bit of math and a lot of teamwork.
Waccamaw Middle School student Sevin Garret concentrated on the plane models in front of him.
“I have to select a plane,” Garret said. His team of Waccamaw and Rosemary Middle students would then build a model.
Fellow team member and Waccamaw eighth-grader Mia Doerr served as the group’s engineer. Their job responsibilities for the task varied from finance manager to pilot, but the students had to work together to create a final product.
“We need other characteristics besides just engineering skills,” Doerr said. “We need to have good manners. You have to have a lot of teamwork and good communication skills.”
The exercise was part of the latest Boeing Day, a partnership between Boeing and the state Department of Commerce that encourages students to pursue STEM-related courses and careers that would lead them into South Carolina’s manufacturing workforce.
“It’s a pipeline,” Frank Hatten, who serves as Boeing’s strategy and integration education relations specialist, said. “We need young people to go into fields involving STEM and advanced manufacturing. One thing that Boeing South Carolina wants to do is get our future employee base from South Carolina. We can start very early by showing videos, talking to them, bringing them to us. We hire people out of high school and we encourage students to get certifications while they are in high school.”
Waccamaw Middle School math teacher Micah Freeman took 23 students to the workshop to give them an example of future career opportunities, both at Boeing and across STEM-related industries.
“I brought my design and modeling class,” Freeman said. “They can also take air and space, so it’s great that Boeing is working with us.”
Shaping the face and skill sets of the future workforce could be crucial. Over the next decade, an estimated 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will be needed across the nation. But with a workforce that lacks industry skill sets, two million of those jobs may go unfilled.
“Advanced manufacturing isn’t what everyone thinks it is,” Jenny VanOss, communications specialist with Boeing South Carolina, said. “It’s a clean environment and you can have a career in it. Not just at Boeing, but with a lot of other manufacturers across the state. We have a commitment to the state to educate everyone on what it’s like to work in manufacturing.”
Boeing South Carolina is responsible for assembling all three models of the company’s 787 Dreamliner. Since 2012, the company has spoken to more than 100,000 middle and high school students, according to its website.
“The things that we build at Boeing are not toys,” Hatten said. “Lives depend on what we do.”
Students who built accurate plane models were allowed to fly them in a distance competition, giving kids a taste for what it was like to work for the company. Seven of the workshop’s nine teams built accurate models in the time given.
“When they work together, the majority of them will finish in 10 minutes and have time leftover,” Hatten added. “The key element is working together. With this project, a key component is those communication skills and those soft skills. At this age, a lot of them don’t want to ask for help, but we encourage them. That’s crucial when they get to the real world.”
Hatten encouraged students to go after the STEM opportunities that would be presented to them in high school including opportunities to earn certifications.
“Any one of you in this room can be the person that builds Boeing’s next airplane,” he said. “I want you guys to think about opportunity. Once you get to high school, take that math class, that engineering class, the IT class that can get you better prepared. There are no limitations other than the limitations you set on yourselves. At your age, I didn’t get this opportunity. Do not let this opportunity slide by.”
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