Western Michigan University (WMU) will break ground tomorrow (May 10) on a new $22 million expansion to its Aviation Education Center, which will include new training facilities and technologies to prepare students for careers within aviation maintenance.
The educational complex at W.K. Kellogg Airport in Battle Creek, Michigan will be growing from 16,000 ft.2 to approximately 67,000 ft.2 with added classrooms, a research center and office space. According to Dave Powell, dean of the school’s College of Aviation, much of the center’s growth is meant to support WMU’s Aviation Technical Operations—or “TechOps”—program.
“I want to teach what’s going on today, but I also want to teach what’s going on tomorrow,” explains Powell, pointing to avionics and composites as modern technology areas where well-paying jobs within aviation are headed. “I think that’s an absolute necessity and we’re investing very heavily into building a state-of-the-art composite lab.”
The center’s former simulator complex will be converted into walk-in ovens and a large composite lab, while the new simulation center will be 50% bigger. The expansion will also add a new paint barn, which Powell says will differentiate WMU’s graduates since few A&P schools teach that skillset.
The TechOps program has around 125 enrolled students and Powell says enrollment for the College of Aviation has grown by 35% in the past five years to around 1,000 students. In addition to the four-year TechOps degree program, the college offers programs within Aviation Flight Science and Aviation Management and Operations.
Powell stresses that industry demand for the TechOps program’s graduates has been “pretty darn strong” and the school is investing money and resources into attracting students to both mechanic and other aviation maintenance careers. The school recently sent its first team to the Aerospace Maintenance Competition and it is partnered with AAR under the MRO provider’s Eagle Career Pathway Program.
The expanded Aviation Education Center is scheduled for completion in summer 2020 and WMU hopes to start classes in the new space the following fall.