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Georgetown leaders launch aviation Pathways scholarship

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Delaware State University is well known for its aviation program, but Georgetown leaders hope to start the workforce development even younger with a pathways program. | PHOTO COURTESY OF THE OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR

GEORGETOWN — Looking to show Sussex County high school students a future career in the skies, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce will launch an inaugural aviation scholarship program with its revamped Pathways to Aviation program.

High school freshmen and sophomores who attend the Sept. 30 vendor fair at Delaware Coastal Airport this year will be eligible for a small scholarship. The scholarship applies to Delaware State University and Delaware Technical Community College, both of which offer strong aviation and maintenance programs, respectively. A minimum of four scholarships, at a minimum of $500, will be awarded.

Georgetown Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Linda Price has raised at least $1,500 at this time for the scholarship fund, and is still looking for more business partners to contribute.

“What Pathways to Aviation is about capturing the hearts and minds of our children and showing them that the sky is really the limit, if they want to be a pilot or a maintenance technician,” Price said. “We’d love to be able to give $1,000 to really make a difference.”

For at least a decade, the chamber and the Delaware Aviation Museum have invited airline and maintenance  companies, as well as local college, law enforcement, military recruiters for a showcase of potential careers flying or repairing airplanes or helicopters. Tied with the Wings & Wheels vintage plane and car show, the idea is to inspire teens to explore a career in the skies.

But in 2019, Linda and Delaware Aviation Museum Executive Director Ron Covais decided to revamp the event after talking with Sussex County superintendents. That year, 35 students from the county arrived and were among the most engaged groups in memory, Price said.

“We were targeting juniors and seniors, not realizing by then they already picked their path. So we focused on freshmen and sophomores – and many of them took the time to visit our vendors and ask questions,” she said. “Of course, if you station a recruiter by a Black Hawk helicopter, you’re bound to find interested kids.”

Around the same time, Covais was laying the groundwork outside the annual event to inspire kids to get in the cockpit. As a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and former Lockheed Martin president, he helped bring a local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Young Eagles Program.

In the Young Eagle Program, kids between ages 8 and 17 are paired up with a pilot for not just a flight, but a walk-through of pre-flight and post-flight operations. Some even take the controls. If they’re inspired, the kids can continue flying, getting air time.

“I know a student that started when they were maybe 13, and now at 16, they’ve done solo flights,” Covais said. “What some people don’t realize is that there’s elements of plumbing, electrical, even IT involved in aircraft control systems.”

The Delaware chapter of the Young Eagles has had at least five students in the last three years, and Covais hopes to continue growing it to inspire students to think ahead. During the pandemic, he also helped set up a series of virtual “pilot for a day” classes in Delmarva schools to get pilots in front of more students.

Delaware has already started to form a pipeline to aerospace and aviation positions. DSU signed an agreement with United Airlines to train and hire pilots last year. Price noted that Northrop Grumman is known for recruiting Del Tech aviation maintenance students for jobs.

But both Covis and Price are looking to add an earlier link in the chain, by starting with younger students.

“Shame on us if we have the resources to offer this opportunity and do nothing. There’s people who live paycheck to paycheck, and this is an opportunity to offer them a path beyond that,” he said.

This year’s Pathways to Aviation program will feature vendors from Aloft, Delaware National Guard, Dover Airforce Base, as well as recruiters from the U.S Army, U.S. Coast Guard and Delaware State Police. Other potential participants could be Southwest, Summit Aviation and Northrop Grumman.

For more information on how to contribute to the Pathways to Aviation program and scholarship fund, contact Price at (302) 856-1544 or at director@georgetowncoc.com.

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