AeroStar visits AAR headquarters AeroStar

Chicago Nonprofit Developing Youth MRO Workforce Pipeline

AeroStar Avion Institute is working with AAR, Olive-Harvey College and other industry stakeholders to provide aviation maintenance education and career opportunities to underrepresented demographics.

Chicago-based youth aviation education nonprofit AeroStar Avion Institute has announced a partnership with AAR and Olive-Harvey College to provide pathways to aviation maintenance careers for students from underserved communities. Under the partnership, AeroStar program alumni—now in the 18-25 age range—will become the inaugural class for a new aviation sheet metalworking course at Olive-Harvey, which was first announced in late 2018.

The 300-hour course, which will launch on April 27, will give students a direct pathway to entry-level jobs in aviation or manufacturing by providing hands-on training with aircraft sheet metal, as well as a guaranteed interview at AAR—which is hoping to place graduates within its Rockford, Illinois and Indianapolis, Indiana facilities as introductory sheet metal technicians or sheet metal apprentice technicians.

“We’re super excited about being able to get kids onto a pathway for the associates degree and right into a training program that leads directly into employment with AAR or a local or regional aircraft maintenance repair operation,” says Tammera Holmes, founder and CEO, AeroStar Avion Institute. Holmes says the new course, which is part of AAR’s EAGLE Career Pathway Program, is a big step for AeroStar in providing a pipeline into aviation maintenance careers. Previously, the nonprofit was focused on providing an aviation pipeline for pilot careers.

“The need for aircraft maintenance technicians is astronomical, and that’s only the beginning, so it’s a numbers game. For every pilot and mechanic, you need another 100 people on the ground doing work in the industry,” Holmes explains. “We really believe that setting kids up for these particular pathways is directly in line with Chicago Public Schools’ mission for students to have a decided post-secondary pathway upon graduation.”

According to Ryan Goertzen, VP workforce development, AAR, an important aspect of the partnership is creating multiple pathways to success for students within the underserved communities AeroStar works with. “One of the reasons that we at AAR are excited to work with AeroStar is that its student demographic is highly underrepresented in aviation,” says Goertzen. The launch class, which was chosen from nearly 140 applicants, includes African-American students and women.


AAR has been working with AeroStar for nearly a decade, helping the nonprofit develop industry contacts and K-12 curriculum. Goertzen says the next phase of cooperation will be helping AeroStar develop aviation maintenance curriculum to be incorporated into the nonprofit’s high school programs, with the goal of growing the number of students in south Chicago who “see aviation as a pathway to generational change.” 

AeroStar started its first aircraft maintenance after school program in October 2018 at Dunbar Vocational Career Academy, which has so far included curriculum such as building small motors and working on engine parts. Holmes says AeroStar has been receiving support for the program from AAR and Boeing, and the program is looking for industry contributions to help make curriculum more robust.


“Anything that we can use and get into the classroom for these kids to see, touch, take apart and put together will make their program experience so much more engaging,” says Holmes. “If you think it’s hard for teachers to be able to do every day what they do in a classroom, it’s even harder for us to teach aviation in a room.”

Holmes says AeroStar’s ultimate goal is to secure hangar space at a nearby airport such as Midway International Airport or Gary Chicago International Airport where students can learn in an airport environment and the nonprofit can “get the kids engaged at a really close level with apprenticeships, retired aviation professionals coming in and teaching, and subject matter experts. We have a lot of that on the aviation flight side, but because the maintenance side is so new, we’re definitely looking to build that up in the future.”


In addition, Holmes says AeroStar is looking to incorporate more aviation maintenance programming into its annual AeroSTEM Expo, which just took place at the Illinois Institute of Technology. The conference, which is in its third year, focuses on generating youth interest in aviation STEM careers. According to Holmes, the expo has grown tremendously, with over 400 registered attendees this year.

“One of the areas we get the biggest and the most feedback from is our mentoring,” says Holmes. “For a lot of these students, this is the first time that they’ve ever had an opportunity to speak face to face with a professional—and an aviation professional at that.”


According to Holmes, this year’s expo focused more heavily on skills and trades compared to previous years. As the expo’s title sponsor this year, AAR shared potential career pathways with attendees, including positions such as aircraft mechanics, inspectors and avionics technicians. Goertzen says AAR is looking to be a leader in addressing the industry’s workforce shortage and the company is “aggressively working to develop and enhance its partnerships with schools.”

AAR’s EAGLE Career Pathway program has now been launched at five school locations, including Olive-Harvey in Chicago. According to Goertzen, AAR is close to announcing new programs in conjunction with its locations in Miami, Florida and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

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