Burlington, News

Flight of opportunity

Westosha Central High School students have built planes, which are stored at the Burlington Municipal Airport, as part of the school’s STEM Aviation Pro-gram. The program will expand to include students from Burlington and Catholic Central high schools with a focus on aviation maintenance at the airport (Jason Arndt/Southern Lakes Newspapers).

New aviation program offered to local high school students

By Jason Arndt

Burlington and Catholic Central high school students will have another opportunity to explore careers in aviation with a new program set to take flight at the Burlington Municipal Airport.

Eagles Nest Projects Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization, has been instrumental in guiding Westosha Central High School students to high paying jobs including pilots, aircraft mechanics, and general engineering positions.

Westosha Central’s STEM Aviation Program, launched a decade ago on school grounds, has built planes and had 18 students become pilots.

The new program extends to students attending Burlington, Catholic Central, Badger, and Wilmot Union high schools at the future STEM Aviation Center on the Burlington-based airport.

The STEM Aviation Center, which officially broke ground April 27, will feature spaces for educational programs, workshops, and interaction with professionals, highlighted by the Career Pathways Program.

Director Jim Senft, of the Westosha Central program, said the curriculum focuses on aviation maintenance.

“This effort is designed to supply local maintenance shops, schools, and commercial flight operators with trained technicians,” Senft said. “Our goal is to nurture a workforce of skilled technicians for the aviation industry.”

Although students will not build planes at the airport, like the program at Westosha Central does, the initiative looks to help them garner hands-on knowledge of aircraft maintenance and set them on a path for successful careers once they graduate from high school.

“We are going to teach them about aircraft mechanics. It won’t certify them as an aircraft mechanic. What it will do is it will get their hands into it,” Senft said. “They will start to learn what it takes to work on an aircraft.”

Senft said several businesses at the airport – including Spring City Aviation, and Burlington Air Center, Inc. – have signed on to assist students in the innovative program.

The STEM Aviation Center also fosters inclusivity, since the Westosha Central program is only available to its own students, and not other area educational institutions.

“Many students have contacted me, sometimes weekly, asking if they could participate in the Westosha Central High School program. Unfortunately, that program is locked down to Westosha Central, but this program opens that door and allows those other students to come in and participate.”

Officials impressed
Greenwoods State Bank, of Burlington, is financing construction of the STEM Aviation Center through a loan.

Barbara Bakshis, senior vice president of business banking at Greenwoods, said the bank proudly approved financing after learning about Westosha Central’s success.

“(The achievements) were pretty impressive in a 10-year time frame, so Greenwoods is very excited to help them,” Bakshis said. “We have done other projects out here at the airport. But this one is very unique in that it’s for students to help educate them and get them into good paying jobs after high school.”

Bakshis, who has deep involvement in the community, said she believes students will see benefits.

“I do anticipate other school districts will be involved in this program,” she said.

Burlington Municipal Airport Manager Paul Aydt supports the STEM Aviation Center because of the new opportunities it presented to students.

“They have stored their airplanes in a couple of hangars that they rented, so I know they have trained pilots in the past,” Aydt said. “Now, they are adding the maintenance side of it, which is very exciting.”

Breaking barriers
The STEM Aviation Center looks to help students overcome obstacles, primarily education costs, while drawing increased interest from youth in aviation.

“It’s often highlighted that aviation faces challenges due to limited interest among youth and the high costs associated with entering the field,” Senft said at the groundbreaking. “However, Eagles Nest Project Wisconsin has proven, through perseverance and commitment, that we can overcome these barriers and open new doors for students in aviation.”

Senft said the program has created other opportunities as well.

“We have gotten 18 pilots, about 50% female to male, and we have three pilots that are flying commercially for different airlines,” Senft said. “We have had many go into engineering from our program.”

Nicole Murphy, then known as Nicole Jackson, graduated from Westosha Central in 2016 and became one of the first students to earn a pilot’s license through the program.

She said the program changed her life, as it allowed her opportunities to network with industry professionals, including one event at a Women in Aviation Conference in Orlando when she was a student.

Murphy urges students at the other schools eligible to participate in the future program.

“I think we are so lucky to have this close to our backdoor. I think they have a huge opportunity that has been presented to them,” she said.

Murphy, who went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, has been working as an electrical engineering team leader at Milwaukee Tool.

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