A new nonprofit aimed at generating excitement about aviation with youth and educators is seeking industry support to expand its mission.
The Aviation and Education Foundation (AEF), based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was launched a little over a year ago and has been fighting an uphill battle to gain traction with both industry stakeholders and educators.
“It’s been a bit of a long road trying to get other people interested to help us and to get some of these projects going,” explains Bill Weber, founder and CEO, AEF.
Currently, the foundation has been busy exhibiting at science fairs in New Mexico and teaching classes at public schools about the science and technology aspects of aviation, such as flight, rocketry and energy. At the state’s largest science fair earlier this summer, AEF set up experiments and live demonstrations of an APU jet engine donated by Norm Hill Aviation, which Weber says generated a lot of interest from attendees.
In addition to pursuing opportunities to teach classes at inner-city schools in underserved areas of Albuquerque and setting up an all-girls rocketry and engineering class, Weber wants to create a rotational cutaway engine to help provide a better hands-on learning tool. But obtaining resources for these projects is challenging, particularly since Weber is funding AEF out of his own pocket and writing the class curriculum himself.
“I would like to get more people involved in the foundation so we can have more trainers and more educators that would go out to different schools and start to expand what we’re doing now,” says Weber. Although AEF has received equipment donations and guidance from companies and organizations such as Estes Industries and Patriots Jets Team, Weber says the nonprofit could greatly benefit from any help potential industry partners might be able to provide.
“Our main thing is to try to give hands-on opportunities to kids and interested people who otherwise could never get into aviation or have the opportunity to deal with this stuff up close,” he says, adding that the impending workforce shortage is a huge driver in AEF’s efforts. “Currently we have the pilot shortage, but the big one people don’t realize will be coming up is the mechanic shortage. That’s a big thing we’re focusing on—the hands-on, mechanical aspects of aviation.”
Weber is working with Aaron Hopkins, AEF’s director of maintenance, to get programs set up for the maintenance side of aviation. While the aircraft equipment the foundation currently possesses has provided some opportunities for hands-on experience with mechanical and electrical concepts, Weber adds that AEF is actively seeking out items like engines and motors to beef up its maintenance programming.
Ultimately, says Weber, industry partnerships will be the key to helping AEF expand its mission to a wider audience—both inside and outside New Mexico. “That’s a big push for our foundation so that we can drive it and push it where we need it to go,” he says. “We’re trying to move forward on our own in those respects.”