Summer program envisioned as eventual pathway to aviation careers

The Columbian - Tom Vogt

Organizers of a high school summer aviation program want to see it eventually become a pathway to high-demand careers.

The first step will be a 10-week aviation class starting June 25 at Pearson Air Museum. The long-term goal is a two-year aviation technology program at Clark County Skills Center, which offers vocational training to high school students from several districts.

The air museum and skills center were brought together by a team from Leadership Clark County, a training program for local citizens. Members of the collaboration hope to get local students ready to meet the aviation industry’s growing demand for employees.

As educators looked at new training possibilities, “The area that kept coming up was aviation,” said Dennis Kampe, executive director of the Clark County Skills Center.

“There literally will be thousands of job opportunities in the next 10 years,” Kampe said.

That’s become a familiar message around the Northwest. U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., addressed the topic at Pearson Air Museum in an October meeting with education officials and leaders in the aviation industry.

The aviation-tech program also reflects the demand for more STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, which “is a high priority,” said Nick Kulmac, one of the organizers

Kulmac is part of the team from Leadership Clark County 2012 that chose aviation education for its class project. The seven-person team pitched the idea to Kampe, who said he was already thinking about that sort of thing.

“They asked, ‘Are you interested?’ I said, ‘It just so happens …’” Kampe said.

A new state-funded building is in the pipeline on the skills center campus, Kampe said. “I knew that an aviation technology program of some type” would be based there.

The project team also contacted the Fort Vancouver National Trust, which oversees the Pearson Air Museum.

“The Trust is ecstatic about the program development being forged between the Pearson Air Museum and the Clark County Skills Center,” said Elson Strahan, president and CEO of the trust.

Strahan also noted Cantwell’s remarks about “the need to stay competitive in aerospace manufacturing.”

The Leadership Clark County team is also helping by enlisting volunteers for a committee that is part of all skills center training programs.

“We’re getting an advisory group together to shape and develop the two-year program,” Tina Krause said.

The program will debut with about 25 students who currently are in grades nine through 11 at local high schools served by the skills center. Registration will start on May 18; students who are interested should contact the skills center or their high school counselor. There is no tuition charge.

Laureano Mier, manager of the Pearson Air Museum, described the 10-week course as an exploratory program. It will include flight history, the fundamentals of airplane design, and introductions to the fields of aero-maintenance and aircraft manufacturing techniques.

The full-scale program will offer 1,080 hours of instruction. Its timetable will depend on state funding for the new building at the skills center, Kampe said. The building should be ready in 2015 at the latest, he added.