Hoping to spark children’s early interest in careers in science, technology, engineering and math, the Kansas City nonprofit TriStar Experience is preserving a jumbo jet for interactive STEM field trips.
The Lockheed L-1011 jumbo jet flew from Tucson, Ariz., to Kansas City International Airport on Saturday evening. Phil Liming, TriStar educational program director, said their “namesake aircraft” will stay at KCI and be converted into an interactive lab for children across the region.
“Imagine several busloads of kids show up, board the aircraft and the whole STEM program can take place on board,” Liming said. “There’s cabin compartments that are fully open to do fun science experiments and activities.”
TriStar Experience is tailoring the jet field trips to Kansas and Missouri education standards, Liming said, and the field trip partnerships will be accessible to all schools.
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“We understand that 10 or 15 dollars per kid for a field trip is standard, so we expect it to be somewhere in that range,” Liming said. “We’re applying for grants so we can use those funds to subsidize disadvantaged schools if they can’t afford that fee.”
Deborah Caywood, director of STEM program development for TriStar Experience, said only 18 percent of high school students graduate with an interest in STEM fields. The race and gender gaps for students going into STEM careers are even more challenging to bridge, according to a 2017 National Science Foundation Report. In education and employment in fields such as aerospace engineering, women and minorities are still highly underrepresented.
This is why STEM education needs to be more hands-on and more project-based with field trips flowing into learning, Caywood said.
“By giving these kids opportunities at very young ages to engage with actual planes, actual tools and the actual environment of an airport, this allows them to capture that interest and passion,” Caywood said. “TriStar allows students to get into aerodynamics on a ground level.”
The authenticity the jet lab offers, she said, will be available in different modules to make the field trips more affordable.
Beginning this fall, kids will get to tour the approximately 40-year-old jumbo jet, speak with aerospace professionals and learn about flight and aircraft systems, TriStar officials said.
Lily Oppenheimer: 816-234-4735, @LilyOppenheimer