WALTERBORO, S.C. - Around 70 seventh grade students from Allendale Fairfax Middle School and Colleton County Middle School participated in USC Salkehatchie’s Take Flight! Aviation Camp, a one-day event hosted at each school. The camp is offered as part of USC Salkehatchie’s STEM program as a WORC grant initiative in partnership with Boeing South Carolina, the Hiram E. Mann Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen and Joint Base Charleston.
“We are delighted to bring this opportunity to students in our local schools,” USC Salkehatchie Dean Chris Nesmith said. “It’s exciting for kids to explore and engage in aviation and the related opportunities in our area by participating in authentic, hands-on learning activities provided by the camp - from programming a drone to working together to build the best paper airplane.”
The camp focused on the opportunities and career paths in the region’s aviation industry, the rich heritage of the Tuskegee Airmen who trained at an airfield in Walterboro during World War II and the development of skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Members of the Hiram E. Mann Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen emphasized the importance of education while they explained the significant contributions of the pilots who were the first African American military aviators in the United States Armed Forces.
“We had an amazing time sharing with the students the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen. Their enthusiastic engagement during our sessions was a testament to their desire to learn about such rich history. We look forward to next year,” Thomas F. Jackson Jr., President, Hiram E. Mann Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen said.
Even though COVID protocols prevented field trips, students were able to connect virtually for sessions with Boeing Program Manager Frank Hatten who led a tour on the construction process for the 787-10 Dreamliner and with 1st Lt. Christopher Hixson for a tour and discussion about the C-17 Globemaster housed at Joint Base Charleston.
“It was an honor for us at Joint Base Charleston to give the campers their first experience with aviation,” Hixson said. “Although we may fly across the world or turn wrenches on multi-million-dollar aircraft today, each of us was once sitting in the same seats as those 7th graders. Somebody once struck that spark in our souls that drove us to get involved in aviation and join the Air Force.”
Additionally, students developed STEM skills through activities including constructing an “air traffic control tower” with marshmallows and spaghetti noodles, programming micro:bit accelerometers and coding flight paths for drones.
The camp has been offered annually since 2015 for students in Colleton County, but this year the activities were expanded to include students from Allendale County. STEM Program Coordinator Holly McCrary has the vision to extend the program even more.
“This was my first flight camp and our first ever hybrid camp. This new structure allows us to increase our impact by offering mini-camps this fall for students in Barnwell, Bamberg and Hampton counties,” McCrary said. “It is so important to expose our young people to career pathways and STEM as early as possible. Showing students how to apply classroom learning in possible career pathways is proven to increase success rates, and that is precisely what this program is designed to do. We are passionate about offering STEM opportunities to the students in our area so that they are prepared for opportunities to compete and succeed in today’s workforce.”