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August 29, 2014

AeroStar Leads The Way With a Training Pipeline for Future Aviators

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Written by: Gabe Andino
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Often all it takes is a spark to ignite a burning passion for aviation. Many who work in the industry, or follow it with interest, can point to an event or circumstance that caused them to fall in love with all things flight. For Tammera Holmes, that event was an introductory flight at an EAA Young Eagles rally when she was 16 years old. The rally, held in conjunction with the Chicago “DODO” Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, was held at the now-closed Meigs Field in downtown Chicago. “The pilot who took me up asked me if I’d like to fly the plane” recalls Tammera. “Without hesitation, I said ‘Absolutley!’ He gave me they controls, and as I was flying over Lake Michigan looking at the beautiful skyline of Chicago, I decided that aviation would be a part of my life from that day forward.” One can say it was love at first flight.

AeroStar Consulting Founder and President Tammera Holmes

AeroStar Consulting Founder and President Tammera Holmes

Tammera is the founder and CEO of AeroStar Consulting Corporation. AeroStar offers a variety of airport planning and aviation consulting services including technical research and creation of reports for airport Environmental Impact Statements, Airport Operations Planning and Air Service Development. In addition to providing high level expertise for airports, AeroStar is deeply involved in providing the spark for the future generation of aviation professionals through the Aviation Academic Initiative Pipeline (AAI) which seeks to highlight aeronautical career opportunities by developing aviation-related curriculums in schools, as well as an aviation-themed after school program known as the AeroStars Aviation Exploration Apprenticeship (A2EA).

That flight over Lake Michigan was what inspired Tammera to pursue a career in aviation. She enrolled in Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL as an aviation flight major and began taking flight lessons as well as taking aviation management courses. While in college, she had the opportunity to participate in aviation management internships with United Airlines and the Chicago Department of Aviation, giving her a glimpse at the business side of the industry and allowing her to refine her ultimate career goals. “I wanted to be a wife and mom someday and being a pilot meant being away from home a lot. It didn’t fit what I wanted to do in life.” Tammera decided then to shift her focus away from flight lessons to obtaining a degree in aviation management. Upon graduation, she was hired by the airport planning firm Landrum & Brown as an intern in their Chicago office, which eventually lead to a full-time position.

While at Landrum & Brown Tammera learned the inner workings of airports, their relationships with airlines and surrounding communities and all the intricacies involved with maintaining infrastructure to support present air travel demand as well as planning for the future. At the same time she came to realize that as an African-American female, she was in a very small minority in the aviation community. This became more apparent when she participated in community outreach events where children where surprised to see someone like her working in aviation. “Kids would always ask me if I was a flight attendant,”  she said. “I always wanted to show them there was so much more to it.”

With several years of experience as a consultant, Tammera saw an opportunity to branch out on her own and start her own consulting business. She formed AeroStar in 2009, obtaining certification as a Minority/Women Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) with the City of Chicago. Creating her own company gave Tammera to accomplish her ultimate career goal far earlier than expected -“My dream was to become CEO of an aviation-related business” – as well as opening up opportunities to obtain lucrative contract work while having more time to be with her growing family. One other benefit to working on her own was the flexibility to pursue another dream project: creating diversity in aviation and aerospace by enhancing awareness of this fascinating field to school children and seeing them all the way through to a career by implementing a support system of aviation professionals and organizations willing to invest some time and resources to this effort.

Thus was born the Aviation Academic Initiative Pipeline. The mission of AAI is to use a systematic approach to introducing aviation and aeronautical aeronautical career path opportunities in the classroom by developing a Science, Technology, Mathematics and Technology (STEM) curriculum that focuses on aviation subjects. This system would eventually lead students to higher education and eventual employment in aviation and aerospace. “Boeing does this in Seattle. They introduce aviation to kids in schools at a young age and are present throughout their whole time in school, then for college they’ll enroll in Embry-Riddle’s satellite campus in Seattle and by the time they are ready to enter the workforce they’ll be working for Boeing”, said Tammera. The classroom teaching is coupled with a network of partners that includes the Chicago Department of Aviation, FAA, Landrum & Brown and the Tuskegee Airmen among others.

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AeroStar’s Aviation Exploration Apprenticeship has become a successful after school program for Chicago public school students.

In addition to the curriculum program, the Pipeline features the AeroStars Aviation Exploration Apprenticeship (A2EA), an afterschool program sponsored by the City of Chicago’s After School Matters program which is funded by both the public and private sector. A2EA introduces a diverse group of students to underrepresented and traditionally intimidating subjects associated with STEM learning. By exploring the aerospace industry, participating students grasp hold of real world practical applications of science and gain a new awareness of the role that aerospace plays in our everyday lives. They perform fact-finding projects to discover the rich history of aviation, do hands-on experiments and activities like flying Flight Simulators and building model airplanes, and explore topics regarding the aerospace industry. Students also meet real industry professionals who share their expertise, experiences and time as well as take field trips to places like local airports (Midway, O’Hare, Gary-Chicago), aerospace businesses, aerospace museum exhibits and the Chicago Air and Water Show. And of course, teens participating in the apprenticeship program also receive a free airplane ride. “Some of these kids first exposure to an aircraft is them standing next to a 777 wheel. That first glimpse is the hook, the exposure changes everthing.”

Getting these programs off the ground was not without challenges. It was tough convincing Chicago public school leadership that an aviation-related school curriculum was feasible and actually done in other cities. Despite Chicago’s ties to aviation – including two major international airports, headquarters to United Airlines and Boeing – there wasn’t a program of this type already in place. Obtaining funding to sustain a quality program over the long term was another challenge. Fortunately After School Matters took a chance on the Apprenticeship program and President Obama has been a strong advocate for the furthering of STEM education, which has led school boards across the country to improve this facet of education in their schools. In addition, Tammera has been able to use her industry connections to provide resources and access for participating students furthering the success of the initiative.

So far the Pipeline curriculum has been implemented in four Chicago-area high schools including the Air Force Academy High School, Kenwood Academy High School, Urban Prep Men’s School and Young Women’s Leadership Prep School. The first graduating class of 10 students who began the curriculum as sophomores graduated high school this past spring, and have gone on to college to pursue aviation majors. They will have continue to have mentors who will follow-up on their progress and provide advice as needed. Next year the first group of students who started the program as freshmen will graduate.

The A2EA program has enjoyed a great level of participation from a variety of students including many minorities, girls and at-risk youth. Participating students have had the opportunity to get inside access at O’Hare International Airport, American Airlines’ maintenance hangar at O’Hare and the United Airlines Operations Center at their Willis Tower headquarters.

Tammera is elated with the progress AeroStar’s educational programs have had and is looking to expand them into other cities. In the meantime she continues to get tremendous satisfaction from helping to lead young people to aviation. “I get up everyday to do things I wish someone would have done for me.”

Gabe Andino is an Associate Editor for NYCAviation.com, aviation enthusiast and airport management professional residing in New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter @OGAndino



About the Author

Gabe Andino





 
 

 

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  • Flygirl

    This is exactly what the Aviation industry needs! Let’s help prepare our next generation workforce NOW!