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Aerospace Companies Show Youth Science in Action

The students at Fulton College Prep are always up for a field trip, so when aerospace science instructor Luis Morejon asked for students interested in building and designing to take a field trip to Woodland Hills he had immediate takers. “I told them ‘I’m going to take you someplace to make that happen,'” said Morejon, a retired U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant. The place Morejon and other educators came to on Feb. 19 with their students was Northrop Grumman’s Navigation Systems Division where they met engineering staffers to participate in activities putting their science and math skills to use. While studies show that American students rank in the top 10 in math and science tests they continue to lag behind students in other countries lacking the history of technological innovation of the U.S. That is not good news for Northrop and other major aerospace and defense contractors which always need engineers and are facing the loss of technical expertise and knowledge as the Baby Boom generation retires. College internships have long been a method by which these companies train and evaluate potential employees but they also know that the younger a student is when they are exposed to the application of science and math the better the chances that they will pursue a career needing those skills. That’s why Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne has its Discover “E” program for elementary students, and Northrop gave a $4,500 grant to the NEW Academy Charter School in Canoga Park to bring the Mad Science program to fourth and fifth graders. Brian Barker, the director of engineering in Woodland Hills, told students from four Valley schools that Northrop likes to get to them as early as possible so they understand the type of work done by the company. Learning about science in particular means having fun in the process; seeing how it is applied in the real world and taking it outside of being words in a textbook. One of the projects at Northrop, building a crash cage out of sipping straws and masking tape, employed physics to cushion an egg that was placed in the cage to keep it from breaking when dropped from a height of more than 20 feet. (Two teams won this competition.) If not for a NEW Academy parent who works at Northrop seeing a Mad Science program for third graders, the school would not have been visited by Gertrude “Gooey Gertie” Villaverde and her colleagues to teach about chemical reactions, the oceans, chemistry, electricity and magnetism, and minerals. “The students leave with a little piece of science to take home with them from every class,” Villaverde said. After the charter school opened four years ago, administrators found that the business community turned a deaf ear when approached about working together, said Principal Edward P. Fiszer. “It was delightful to have a parent initiate this,” Fiszer said. Future Workers A $6,500 grant from Northrop to the school of engineering and design at Monroe High School in North Hills paid the fees for its students to take part in robotics competitions. Last year, the school was represented at a national competition in Atlanta. This year, students have competed at Los Angeles Valley College and have an upcoming event in March at California State University, Northridge. Not all the students on the school’s four robotics teams are the “techie” type and the most valuable skill they learn is working within a team, said instructor Lewis Chappelear. The Northrop visit and placing students as interns with machine shops in the Valley that are sub-contractors for aerospace and military contracts exposes them to professionals who are working as engineers and business owners. That creates a two-way street of putting teens in corporate settings and keeping the companies aware and active of what takes place in the schools. “It blurs that line between school and career,” Chappelear said. Aircraft fabricating careers have been started at Northrop’s manufacturing facility in Palmdale through a training program between the company and Antelope Valley College. The school modified its curriculum for the summer program that doubles as an ongoing job interview with Northrop executives making unannounced visits and where a student can be dropped for missing one class. Fifty students who completed the program have been hired at the Palmdale plant. Later this month the school will receive an Excellence in Partnership Award from the California Community College Association for Occupational Education for the training program.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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