High school's college aviation program takes flight

tbarton@beaufortgazette.comMarch 25, 2013 

At Battery Creek High School, junior Wendell Roberson, 17, has everything he needs to prepare for his dream job as an aerospace engineer: flight simulator, miniature wind tunnel and access to college curriculum from one of the world's leading aeronautical universities.

He even has his own Cessna aircraft to tinker with.

"This is where we took the (instrument) panel apart and will install a new one," Roberson said, poking his head into the cockpit of a stripped-down, single-engine Cessna 172 parked outside the school's robotics and engineering lab.

Students have been refurbishing the aircraft, thanks to a partnership with the Technical College of the Lowcountry. In exchange for allowing the technical college to use the high school for its aircraft maintenance program, which is geared toward those in the military, students have access to the plane, as well.

It's part of a new program this year that allows students to earn college credit through a partnership with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The Beaufort County School District is the second in the country to offer dual-enrollment courses with the university at a high school, according to Battery Creek aviation instructor Tony Petrucci.

Students will earn both a high school elective credit and three college credits for each course.

Col. Jack Snider of Battery Creek helped arrange the partnership.

The goal: Make students college- and career-ready for positions with employers such as Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Charleston's new Boeing plant and Gulfstream's Savannah operations.

"And at the same time, we're exposing them to critical math, science and engineering skills needed to be successful in many of today's career fields," Snider said.

The first course, management for aeronautical science, teaches students about aviation careers, flying and aviation safety.

The second course, project management in aviation operations, teaches them how to manage a project from start to finish, including construction of a small wooden aircraft.

Snider said the courses are capstones to a series of engineering and aviation courses already taught at the school. Those classes are offered through Project Lead the Way, a national engineering curriculum that allows students to earn college credit.

Twelve students participated during the fall semester, and 11 are enrolled this spring.

"They've done very well," Petrucci said. "They have a thirst for it, and we keep the same standards as Embry-Riddle. It gives them a taste for college and a taste for aviation."

Already, Roberson and other students have designed a small wooden air foil that they've used as a model for computer simulations and tested in the wind tunnel.

Petrucci also offers a pilot syllabus, using the simulator to help students gain the skills they need to get a pilot's license on their own, if they choose. Next year, he hopes to offer students the ground-school equivalent to flight school, "where the only thing they would have to do is pick up the flight hours," Petrucci said.

For Roberson, the program has been "an ultimate chance" to get a leg up on college and launch his dream.

"Even if you don't go into aviation, you still get a head-start on college and learn valuable science, math and engineering skills applicable to many career fields," he said.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

Related content:

College-level aviation classes to be offered to students at Battery Creek: May 16, 2012

Battery Creek changes hopes to make students 'college and career ready': Nov. 20, 2010

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

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