The sky’s no longer the limit for Eden Prairie High School (EPHS) students — starting next year, students in all grades can sign up to take new, hands-on classes in the fields of aeronautics and aerospace.
These new courses were created to match student learning with a growing industry need for highly trained aviation industry employees, including pilots, aircraft and avionics mechanics and technicians, and air traffic controllers.
The courses are part of EPHS’s new Pathways programs, which are suggested progressions reflecting five high-demand career fields. They are geared to provide a focused but flexible framework that guides students as they select their coursework and extracurricular activities.
Intro to Aircraft and Spacecraft and You Can Fly: Careers in Aerospace are the two intro classes available for the 2023-24 school year.
“Both classes are meant to give very hands-on experiences,” said Robb Virgin, Eden Prairie Schools’ executive director of personalized learning. “Both classes will have chances to take discovery flights, so if you want, you can actually get up in the air.”
Students in both classes will also have access to simulators in the classroom: PC-based, as well as a full-motion, FAA-certified simulator that students can log hours in if they are doing their initial licensure, Virgin said. He added that the district is also looking into ways that the community could access that full-motion simulator.
Getting out of the classroom and into the field is one of the key characteristics of these courses. Both classes will spend time at Flying Cloud and Minneapolis-St. Paul airports, as well as with industry professionals from local airlines, including Sun Country, so students can learn what they do.
“Classes will be rooted in a lot of exposure experience,” Virgin said.
You Can Fly: Careers in Aerospace will introduce students to career opportunities in aviation and aerospace, ranging from pilots to mechanics to aviation management. Students will learn about how aviation fits into the global economy as well as examine challenges within aerospace to innovate solutions.
In that class, Virgin said, “We’re going to chunk into different career paths, then kick off each cluster with a site visit.
“So we may go to Flying Cloud and say, ‘Who are all the people that help direct the planes?’ and go into the flight tower. Then for the next week or two, we’ll learn about that. Then, ‘Who helps get the planes ready?’ The designers, the engineers, the mechanics. That would be a cluster. Then another would be, ‘Who’s flying them?’ Pilots.”
Intro to Aircraft and Spacecraft is a 3-credit, hands-on introductory course that will teach students the principles of flight, allow them to work with drone technology, and get hands-on experience flying as a pilot using the simulators. The course is being run in conjunction with Minnesota State University Mankato, which has a large aviation program.
“They’re going to look at drones, rockets, space travel, and a lot of the principles of flight,” Virgin said. “It’s really the first class that pilots would take as an undergraduate, but they can take that here.”
Both classes are open to all grades and do not have prerequisites.
Aeronautics capstone new in 2024-25
Starting in 2024-25, a career-focused Aeronautics capstone class will also be available as part of the Natural and Applied Sciences and Engineering, Technology, and Manufacturing Pathways. Students who complete either or both of the introductory aeronautics courses will be eligible to take the capstone.
Capstones are individual courses for juniors and seniors that draw on student experiences leading to that point. They are designed to transform the traditional classroom experience to give students practical, real-world knowledge needed for a career in that field.
“The capstone part is where they really start behaving like professionals,” Virgin said. “At the end of the aeronautics capstone, students will be ready to take the ground school test, which is the private pilot knowledge test. They’ll also log their first 2.5 hours towards their private pilot’s license in our simulator.”
He said support from local industry representatives has been vital to planning the program. “Our connection with Flying Cloud Airport, and the willingness of Flying Cloud and aviators in the community to help us, has been amazing,” he said.
“We’ve got a great advisory team started already that’s helping us figure out what curriculum to use, what the requirements are for licensure if we want to get kids on that path, what equipment we should use, and helping us pick out simulators. It’s been super exciting. They see the need in their own industry, and they’re all in,” he said.
Virgin said students will be introduced to a wide range of careers and occupations in aviation, from military to Civil Air Patrol to commercial industry jobs, like pilots, mechanics, and airport management.
Virgin said current and predicted industry shortages and the many local job opportunities in the aeronautics industry are the key reasons why the school is offering these classes.
As post-pandemic air travel began picking up last year, airlines faced hiring shortages and training challenges. This hampered their staffing ability and resulted in fewer flights and lower profitability.
Students and community members considering jobs in the air transportation industry can browse job descriptions and full occupational employment and wage statistics in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook for air transportation.
This includes details for jobs such as aircraft and avionics mechanics and technicians, air traffic controllers, and airline and commercial pilots.
Aeronautics classes will be interdisciplinary
Virgin said that because the aerospace field is so interdisciplinary, the Aeronautics capstone will be available in both the Natural and Applied Sciences and Engineering, Technology, and Manufacturing Pathways.
“Other classes students might take to complete the Pathway if they’re interested in aerospace include AP Environmental Science, AP Human Geography, Engineering, Physics, and Calculus. Those would all be good options to add on,” Virgin said.
Students will also be able to earn up to two of the 10 credits for the Pathway by being part of certain school clubs, although clubs do not count toward graduation requirements.
“For instance, if you wanted to do the Aeronautics capstone and you were on the robotics team, or in the Business Pathway and in DECA, two of your 10 credits could come from that,” Virgin said.
Virgin said he hopes pursuing capstones and Pathways will encourage students to explore existing interests, but also areas they’ve never thought of before. “It’s going to be a meaningful, memorable, fun learning experience for kids.”
He stressed that students shouldn’t be intimidated by the aeronautics courses or the upcoming capstone. “It is rigorous and authentic, but it’s also super accessible. And if you decide you want to get certifications out of it, we’re going to pay for them.
“It’s going to be a totally transformational experience,” Virgin said. “We’ve got exciting days ahead.”
How to learn more
Families and community members who would like to learn more about these classes and the Pathways and capstone experiences can watch a video of a virtual information session hosted by Virgin on Friday, Feb. 10.
The EPHS Registration Hub also has several resources, including full course listings and pathways planning guides.
EPHS students can also call the course selection hotline at 952-975-8098 from noon to 3 p.m. on Feb. 13 to get course selection help from a counselor.
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