Written by Dr. Triant Flouris, Provost, Hellenic American University
High school students aged 14 to 17 gather every summer in late June for three weeks to participate in the academic and experiential activities of the Aviation and Flight Academy, designed by Hellenic American University in partnership with Athens International Airport in Athens, Greece. Several local organizations and individuals support the Academy, most notably Global Aviation SA, a flight school located in the outskirts of the city, offering resources and expertise.
The Academy is not entirely about aviation; it’s about leadership. Solidly grounded in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) philosophy, the programme is a unique opportunity for purposeful high school students to develop skills in teamwork, communication and analysis in an academic context grounded in science, technology and management with a distinct aviation focus. Through these means, we are poised to better prepare the future workforce of an industry that depends on specialized talent in a multitude of areas of activity, both technical and managerial.
STEM-focused education is not new; it has gained a lot of attention in recent years as educators look for more effective and meaningful ways to connect with and engage students in the sciences. The key component of STEM is pedagogical integration, thus, instead of teaching disciplines in a theoretical manner through an independent discipline-based approach, lessons are well‑rounded project- and inquiry-based, with a focus on interdisciplinary learning. STEM aligns with the way we work and addresses problem solving in our daily lives, rendering it an effective way of instructing and learning. With this type of inquiry, we focus on the acquisition of skills the way they will be used in the workforce and the real world. Several studies have shown that STEM-type education developed for students prior to their university studies prepares them better for success during university, which is also an indicator of professional success. Furthermore, STEM-type education is shown to foster inquiring minds, logical reasoning and collaboration skills.
None of the constituent parts of the Academy are entirely unique. Several STEM programmes are conducted around the world that focus on technology and science. A plethora of residential and non-residential camps with an academic or social focus also exist as well as many excellent aviation programmes and camps offered primarily by flight schools and universities. The Academy, however, combines elements found in other similar endeavours in an unprecedented manner creating significant holistic value from the constituent parts. First, the Academy is true to STEM philosophy, links theory with practice inextricably and directly thus maximizing student learning outcomes, as its pedagogical strategy is deeply rooted in experiential education philosophy. In addition, the Academy offers academic credit to its graduates as it is structured in a similar manner to university-level courses. Furthermore, as a joint effort of industry and academia, it thus capitalizes on the unique resources and expertise of both.
Being part of Athens International Airport’s Corporate Social Responsibility programme and Hellenic American University’s mission, the Academy positions itself strongly in serving both organizations’ goals, society and the aviation industry at large. The university offers strong academic expertise and structure while the airport provides first class infrastructure, facilitation and unparalleled technical expertise. This is a complementary partnership which requires each organization to provide a part of the optimal whole of the endeavour.
Therefore, the Academy structure provides a framework for industry-academic collaboration that can be emulated in other contexts – functional, industry and geographic. Whereas it is early to speak of tangible results of the Academy both for industry and academia, as it is currently in its fourth year, glimpses of its first substantive outcomes are on the horizon. Students who started in the Academy three years ago are now either first- or second-year students in universities in Greece, the US and other countries. They are studying to become professional pilots, engineers, technologists and managers, and will most likely be the next generation of aviation professionals and leaders in technical, operational and managerial professions.
Students can opt to continue taking Academy courses until graduation from high school and even muster 12 hours of academic credit which can then be used for their university education, having gained a well-rounded view of the aviation industry’s functions. In practical terms, the Academy can serve as a bridge to university-level studies and provide a structured academic and professional path in aviation.
The Academy framework creates strong industry-educational partnerships, and its content inspires young purposeful students by preparing them in the best possible manner from an early age as the future leaders of the industry. Any industry needs structured academic paths as a means to advance itself, and, due to its nature, the aviation industry requires a well-rounded skill set and expertise. At this historical juncture in the growth of the aviation industry, projected to grow dynamically in the future, initiatives such as the Academy, especially if embraced by industry regulators and trade organizations, can prove to be effective tools towards managing growth and progress.
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