Eric Henry, chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Reno Air Race Foundation (RARF), said excitement and integration of new programs were the foundation of Wednesday evening’s Pathways to Aviation event which invited beginning and higher education students, business professionals and aviation enthusiasts to the University of Nevada, Reno for the fifth consecutive year.
“I think in the last five years we have created a lot of momentum,” Henry said, “We have finally been getting quite a bit of attention and now we have partnerships that we have been nurturing for the last three years and this thing is starting to become more than a vision — it is starting to become reality, and that is where the whole passion and visions fill in.”
Wednesday’s Pathways to Aviation solidified multiple major partnerships for the RARF with Sierra Nevada Corporation, a Sparks-based company focused on technology solutions in various aeronautical areas, UNR and the Challenger Learning Center of Northern Nevada, a non-profit organization encouraging students to obtain careers in engineering and aviation. Speakers from all three entities took the microphone discussing their respective areas of expertise including involvement with NASA shuttle missions, space programs and opportunities for future career employment and education.
“When you look at it our programs are where a lot of kids get their first exposure to aviation and they really get excited about it,” Henry said. “Having a program like the Challenger Learning Center where kids can actually run a space shuttle and do mission control with mockups of what it is like Houston Space Center and working with the Civil Air Patrol.”
With RARF’s goal being to expose the community to opportunities in aviation and aeronautics, a big piece of the puzzle fits directly with the local school district and the promotion of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education. Henry said nudging students, at all levels of education, toward the STEM programs and degrees only strengthens the chances of aviation-centric careers facilitating excitement in the future.
“Working with the school districts to have them start promoting aeronautics and aviation course work, and then working up to the university to have degrees in aviation, is very important,” Henry said, “Because I think in the end those are all goals taking the kid and getting them to a point where we have companies like Sierra Nevada Corporation who don’t have to look outside of Nevada or California or even outside of our country to find skilled and qualified men and women in the areas of science, engineering and mathematics, they can find them locally and really support our local community.
“We are able to drive kids to the community and the country, but more importantly we engage kids when they are young and we inspire them to have careers in aviation or related careers in STEM. Then we employ them locally.”
Henry said events like Pathways to Aviation have potential to attract more companies like Sierra Nevada Corporation to not only sponsor and speak at the event, but offer a place for students to gain work experience and full-time employment, boosting the local economy. He added that the anticipation builds alongside the enthusiasm as more and more people begin choosing aviation careers.
“First off, you’re excited,” Henry said. “You are giving birth to the baby that you have been nurturing for the last couple of years and it does not go unnoticed. It’s a team event. Volunteers who have passion who want to see this thing become a reality, and when I see young men and women that have come through similar veins of this program what I see is us not only getting them excited about STEM we are also building our future leaders.
“We can continue to move our aerospace and astronauts to further areas where space travel can become more of a reality. So when you say excited I am just looking down the road and seeing these kids excited about this industry again and moving into these different fields and we are going to be moving into these areas that are completely unrelated just by sheer association.”
As the Pathways to Aviation event grows its popularity Henry said creating similar new events are the future plans for the RARF. Ushering in more corporations and creating a museum system exploring the past achievements of the various aeronautical programs would be a great start for a bright future, according to Henry.
“I can really see it building into being able to have a career in aviation and getting degrees in aerospace aviation from the university,” Henry said. “We want to let people know about where we are going but also where we have gone, and we want to be able to say ‘now we have accomplished this so here is what we are doing next’ and ‘here is where the community is helping and going next.’”