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OU Partnering with Norman Public Schools to Launch Aviation Academy

OU Partnering with Norman Public Schools to Launch Aviation Academy

Nose of a small aircraft on the runway at Max Westheimer Airport

The University of Oklahoma will help position high school students for successful aviation and aerospace careers, as well as meet the rising demand for employees in Oklahoma’s growing aviation industry, through a new aviation academy offered by Norman Public Schools.

Through the use of OU’s School of Aviation Studies and Gallogly College of Engineering instructors and facilities, the Oklahoma Aviation Academy will offer STEM-based curriculum covering a variety of related fields including aviation, computer science, engineering, atmospheric sciences, robotics and more.

“OU is excited to partner in the development of an aerospace academy in Norman,” said André-Denis Wright, senior vice president and provost for OU’s Norman campus. “Partnering with Norman Public Schools allows us to meet our strategic goals for preparing students for career success and positively impacting Oklahoma’s economy.”

With aviation being the second largest industry in Oklahoma and OU having a successful aviation program already in place, the academy is in a unique position for success, said Eric Wydra, director of the OU School of Aviation Studies.

“There’s literally, just in the Oklahoma City area, about 230 aerospace companies. You have the FAA, which has the Monroney Center, and Tinker Air Force Base, the largest logistics facility in the Air Force. They all hire 1,500 people a year, the type of people the academy and OU are preparing,” Wydra said. “There is so much demand out there and not enough infrastructure to fill that demand.”

The idea for the academy was introduced by Rick Nagel, a member of OU’s Board of Regents and CEO of Acorn Growth Companies. Nagel said the academy could help bring more businesses to the state.

“The vision I have is that kids will come into this immersive experience and get exposed to STEM programming in a way where we make it fun and exciting for them,” he said. “We have good partnerships with the industry; we have partnerships with Tinker, and kids are concurrently enrolled in both Moore-Norman Technology Center and the University of Oklahoma. So, when they come out, they’re job ready and can go right into the workforce or go right into an aviation or engineering program at OU.

“I think the state will be able to use this as a recruiting tool, and I think we will start to see kids better prepared for the jobs that are here,” he added. “I think we are really set up for success here.”

Nick Migliorino, superintendent of Norman Public Schools, said OU’s partnership is foundational to the success of the academy.

“From Regent Rick Nagel, President Harroz and Provost Wright, to the deans and leadership at the colleges, everyone we have worked with has been supportive and enthusiastic about working together for this vision,” he said. “The university clearly has a culture that is passionate about finding innovative ways to further education and create opportunities for students of all ages. We couldn’t be more grateful for their partnership.”

Randa L. Shehab, associate dean for academic affairs for the Gallogly College of Engineering at OU, said the academic and experiential background students will receive at the academy will propel them for success in future careers in Oklahoma’s aerospace and defense industry.

“Norman Public Schools has always provided outstanding preparation for our engineering students and STEM students in general,” Shehab said. “The envisioned Aviation Academy will be transformational in preparing future generations of Oklahoma engineers and STEM students. The Gallogly College of Engineering is excited to partner with the Aviation Academy to bring academy students opportunities to be involved in projects and research and then to continue their focused and relevant education through engineering curriculum, undergraduate research projects and extracurricular opportunities.”

Norman Public Schools expects to begin enrolling students this spring, with an inaugural freshman class beginning courses this fall. Classes will initially be held at both Norman high schools while also utilizing classroom space at Max Westheimer Airport. The district has plans to eventually build a standalone campus for the academy at Max Westheimer Airport.

Students entering the academy their freshman year will experience two years of exploratory learning and an introduction to the aerospace industry, followed by two years of more intensive learning around the industry that best fits their career aspirations. The academy will provide a pathway to OU’s aviation program, as well as prepare students to leave high school with a private pilot’s license or other certifications and for lucrative careers in STEM-related industries.

By Tami Althoff

Article Published:  Wednesday, January 12, 2022