Mission Update: Aerospace Valley grows its own industry workforce

by Larry Grooms, special to Aerotech News
Aerospace research, testing, manufacturing and defense organizations clustered across the high desert valleys of northern Los Angeles and southeastern Kern and Inyo counties are reaching out to attract, motivate, train and hire a new generation of homegrown aviators, engineers, scientists, technicians and assemblers.

The combined effort evolved from aerospace industry recognition that the region offering some of the world’s most challenging, exciting, rewarding and meaningful jobs was at the same time alien territory for young, urban millennial engineers and technicians; especially newlyweds. Although many make the adjustment and grow to love their new locale, industry experience showed people who already lived in the high desert and mountain region remained in their jobs longer.

Although regional college and university programs are turning out certified technicians and newly graduated aerospace engineers, the seeds for the workforce supply chain started in elementary and high schools before the first decade of the new century.

Many of the college-age students preparing for careers in aerospace today are the children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren of men and women who built, flew, tested and maintained America’ first jet aircraft, the trail-blazing line of X-planes, rocket engines that took Americans to the moon, bombers and fighters and space shuttle orbiters. Kids growing up in the Antelope Valley have been going into the family business since the 1950s.

With a booming economy, aging workforce and shrinking pool of skilled technicians, engineers, skilled craftspeople and scientists, the aerospace companies and military installations around the Antelope Valley region are stepping up both financially and technically to underwrite the preparation of new technical workforce. Six figure grants, donations of scientific equipment and hardware, internships and scholarships touch educational programs from kindergarten to graduate degrees.

Antelope Valley College is one of the few community colleges in the United States to offer a Federal Aviation Administration certified Airframe and Powerplant Technician Program consisting of general aircraft maintenance, airframe and powerplant components.

Those who complete the program will have knowledge of aircraft structures, hydraulics, fuel and electrical systems, fire controls, engines, landing controls and others, as well as familiarity with techniques and operations involved in aircraft maintenance and repair. The program also prepares students with knowledge needed to pass FAA comprehensive testing leading to an Airframe & Powerplant Mechanic Certificate.

Local employers maintaining partnerships with this program include Northrop Grumman, which requires local applicants without experience to graduate from Antelope Valley College’s program in order to be considered for a position. Northrop, Lockheed and Boeing often recruit in class, and Northrop has interviewed prospective employees on campus.

Manufacturing degrees
Airframe Manufacturing Technology is a one-of-a-kind bachelor’s degree program designed to meet aerospace industry needs for multi-skilled first line leads in manufacturing structural components of an aircraft for civilian and military specifications. The program’s curriculum addresses airframe manufacturing, aircraft fabrication (structures and composites), and electronics.

The AFMT program is geared for students who have completed or are in progress of completing a two-year program in Aircraft Fabrication and Assembly, who are interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Aircraft Manufacturing Technology.

Ringmaster in the regional circus of fast-growing aerospace schooling is the California Aerospace Technologies Institute of Excellence (CATIE). Located on the AVC campus in Lancaster, CATIE is geographically positioned to meet the expanding aerospace industry needs for technology growth in California’s Antelope Valley and Mojave regions.

CATIE facilitates collaborative networking with the aerospace industry, Air Force Research Laboratory, Mojave Air and Space Port, Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, and Academic Research Institutions for emerging and advanced technology in space propulsion and responsiveness systems. CATIE also works to explore new innovative technology and accelerate linking the marketplace with aerospace and defense industries. Khalil Dajani, Ph.D., is director of CATIE.

Cal State Long Beach Engineering at Lancaster University Center
Antelope Valley residents can earn a Bachelor of Science in Electrical or Mechanical Engineering from the College of Engineering at CSULB within two and a half years.

The program, designed for students interested in completing their engineering degree, is located in the Lancaster University Center, 45356 Division Street in Lancaster. The location provides unprecedented access to the industry, including internships with local companies and organizations. Participants must have completed their first two years of coursework at a community college or other university. This program is a shared commitment between CSULB, industry and government partners, and community colleges in the greater Antelope Valley to ensure that the region has access to high-quality, affordable education in engineering.

Students are admitted and matriculated through CSULB. The program is a cohort-based model, allowing students to proceed as a group through the program in a prescribed lock-step sequence. The cohort model emphasizes teamwork and collaboration among students and offers a strong support system as you progress through the program. Students complete 68 units of junior and senior level engineering, capstone General Education, and math coursework. The program takes approximately two and a half years to complete, including a summer term.
For more information call, 661-723-6429, Ext. 103 or 104.

Palmdale Aerospace Academy
Opened in 2012 with about 500 students in grades 7, 8 and 9, the Palmdale Aerospace Academy is today home to 2,300 students attending two adjacent campuses, one for transitional kindergarten through 8th grade, and the other for high school students.

Although the Palmdale Aerospace Academy, a charter school under auspicious of the Palmdale Elementary School District, has yet to see its first graduates receive a baccalaureate degree, tracking of TPAA’s alumni reveals: 87 percent enrolled in a two-year college; the majority of those working are employed in aeronautics or technology, and the college acceptance rate for graduates to date is 90 percent. According to the U.S. News and World Report’s 2016-17 rankings, Palmdale Aerospace Academy ranked 2,140 nationally, and 324th within California. Student participation rate in Advanced Placement coursework and exams was 79 percent, and its graduation rate was 98 percent.

Sarah Mann, the Palmdale Aerospace Academy Director of Public Relations & Philanthropy, said the school offers an increasingly popular approach to better prepare students for life choices. “We have a Career to College Master Plan for each student,” she said, explaining that graduates will leave high school with the academic knowledge and a level of marketable skills to go forward in life. Part of that preparation includes growing opportunities for student internships with local industry.
For further information call, 661-273-3680

CAREER ACADEMIES – Antelope Valley Union High School District
Antelope Valley Union High School District’s Career Technical Education department is committed to preparing students for college and careers through career academies at several campuses. CTE academies are small learning communities that offer 9th through 12th grade students the opportunity to gain skills required for college and career readiness, while learning in a 21st century environment.

The academies combine rigorous academics, sequenced technical training, internships, and work-based learning. This approach provides exposure to real-world workplaces and teaches the professional skills needed to thrive in a career. By centering high school around industry themes, learning becomes relevant. Students graduate with the skills and confidence to succeed in college, career and life. Career Tech Education directors are Betsy McKinstry and Dianne Walker.

The Fulton & Alsbury Academy of Arts and Engineering
The Lancaster Elementary School District’s 6th through 8th grade middle school academy of arts and engineering is named to honor the memories of famed Air Force and NASA test pilot Fitz Fulton and Scaled Composites test pilot Mike Alsbury, who died in the crash of SpaceShipTwo.

The school’s rigorous course of study includes hands-on, real world context and core curriculum that includes a daily engineering and art class for every one of its 415 students. Working collaboratively, engineering students often use their creativity to solve problems for a client. To learn about 3D modeling, 7th graders designed and produced 3D printed model plaques to display five brass Medal of Honor plaques at Edwards Air Force Base. Their design won a contest and will be in the Medal of Honor exhibit in the new base museum.

Among other projects, students create Android apps, launch model rockets, solder circuits on PCBs, build and program robots, and design and test wind turbine blades. In visual arts, students study elements of art and design, and learn to create art in a variety of styles and media.

District Superintendent of Schools Michele Bowers reports enthusiastic industry support in time, money and equipment, including a total of over $100,000 in grants from the Air Force Research Lab, Northrop Grumman, the Eleni & Wolfgang Gagon Trust, Verizon, and others. She said, “We’ve taken field trips to art museums, the local performing arts center, the Air Force base, to a Mojave company building spacecraft, and to the James Webb Space Telescope at Northrop in Redondo Beach.”

The district’s robotics team won the VEX CA State Championship in 2016, leading them to compete in the VEX World Championships in Louisville, and the Science Olympiad team reached the state finals at Caltech in 2017 and 2018.

Three elementary sites, Discovery, Lincoln and Jack Northrop, offer engineering courses for K-5 students. Mariposa Elementary became a computer science magnet school.

Superintendent Bowers said, “We wanted a program that would tie-in well with the high school district and which would prepare students for the workforce. For example, schools expect students to collaborate well, but often those skills are not often taught or practiced explicitly, despite the high value in the workforce of the ability to collaborate and to speak in front of a group. Project Lead the Way Gateway was ultimately chosen, and currently students take nine engineering modules over their three years in the program, taught daily.”

The superintendent said community partnerships added value to the program. Contributions from Northrop Grumman, for instance, allowed sending two engineering teachers and three students to Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala. Northrop Grumman also donated tens of thousands of dollars to support the district’s 1:1 computer ratio; the VEX robotics program, Science Olympiad team, and classroom engineering supplies. The Air Force Research Lab donated funds for computers and a new makerspace, where students can tinker, build, and explore creatively. Verizon donated funds toward tablets that students use to create Android apps, and Lockheed Martin sends volunteers every year for Engineering Week.

And it’s not all about corporate contributions. When a student said she wanted to become a mechanical engineer in order to design better leg braces for people like her with spina bifida, an aerospace engineer brought her samples of composite materials she might consider using.

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