Diverted by pandemic, an aviation school for underserved youth lands online

Centered author Katie Pyzyk is on vacation. Today’s edition features reporting by Audrey Henderson and was compiled by Dan Haugen.

Tammera Holmes and her team at AeroStar Avion Institute feared the coronavirus pandemic would cause students in the aviation program to fall behind. She recently developed an e-learning program to keep them on track. More on the program after today’s Midwest cleantech headlines…

Today’s headlines:

🚘 ELECTRIC VEHICLES: Ohio electric vehicle startup Lordstown Motors unveiled its electric pickup truck today at an event attended by Vice President Mike Pence and Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette. Watch the event below. Another Midwest EV startup, Rivian, plans to start building is electric pickup truck later this year.

⚡ SMART GRID: The U.S. Department of Agriculture this week announced $386 million for investments in smart grid technology among $1.6 billion in new funding for rural electric infrastructure. The spending will be spread across 21 states, including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

👏 RECOGNITION: A recent White House report cites the success of BRITE Energy Innovators in northeast Ohio, the Youngstown Vindicator reports. The energy incubator is mentioned in a report on best practices and case studies related to federal opportunity zone spending.

Now, back to AeroStar’s e-learning program…

THE BACKSTORY: Holmes grew up in Maywood, Illinois, a poor suburb west of Chicago. She developed her love for aviation in high school. After more than a decade as a consultant, she launched AeroStar in 2008 with a mission to provide an entry into STEM and aviation careers for underserved and underrepresented young people.

Watch: In a TEDx talk titled “Get Kids High,” Holmes describes her introduction to aviation and her passion for inspiring others.

THE BARRIERS: For many African American and Latinx students, and students of all ethnicities from underserved communities, a career in aviation is beyond their imagination. Holmes discovered that camp programs for young people can cost more than $1,000 per week — far beyond their families’ means. They also don’t see many people who look like them in aviation related fields.

THE SOLUTION: As Illinois imposed a stay-at-home order, Holmes transitioned from in-person instruction to online, and switched AeroStar’s focus from adult instruction to coursework for grades 5 through 12. She recruited instructors from across the fields of science and aviation, including educators from Loyola University, the University of Chicago and NASA, to develop e-learning coursework suitable for young people. She and her team launched the platform in approximately six weeks.

THE NEXT STEPS: “Within the first hour of launching the courses online through our network, we had 70 students enrolled. That was before we went on social media. That was just on my email list of parents and students,” Holmes said. She did not publicize the program widely at first so that students in her program would have the first opportunity to sign up. However, since the program is online, there is an opportunity to enroll students from across the country and even internationally.

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