Some schools ignored prediction of a pilot shortage in the U.S.

There’s a shortage of pilots in the United States, which prompts us to consider some of the short-sighted decisions of some educational institutions in these parts earlier in the century.

St. Cloud State, for example, closed its aviation program in 2013, leaving just one aviation program — Mankato — in a Minnesota state college.

SCSU had a $20 million deficit and in a strategic review, university officials decided they wanted to offer an education with broad knowledge rather than training for just one job.

Some of the job of getting young people interested in aviation has fallen, instead, to some high schools.

PBS NewsHour, for example, relays the story today of a high school in California, whose students are mostly recent Latino immigrants. Its one of 80 high schools in the country adopting a STEM-based program.

At the end of the four years, the goal of the program is to provide students with the skills either to get a job in the industry or pursue a degree in a related field, said Katie Pribyl, AOPA’s senior vice president for Aviation Strategy and Programs.

“It could never be a better time to get into aviation and aerospace,” she said.

[teacher Jonas] De Leon says the course makes him feel like a new teacher again. The class meets daily, and his students return after school to practice flying the simulators. The hands-on activities give them a chance to compete to their fullest potential, he said.

Before the class, his students didn’t know about career options in aviation or steps to become a qualified pilot, or even how to get to the airport. “It’s piqued their curiosity,” De Leon said.

And their career options could be vast. There is demand in cargo transport, flight instruction, drone operation, software and electrical engineering sectors as well as in the commercial space industry, which includes aerospace engineering and rocketry.

It would be interesting to look up some of Peter Denny’s old shop students at Washburn High School in Minneapolis to see if any of them migrated to the field.

Denny was an Australian who made his way to Minneapolis and landed a job as a teacher. He was also a pilot and had built an airplane.

So he found an old airplane for his students to restore. In the process, they’d learn about something they otherwise wouldn’t have any exposure to, MPR’s Dan Olson noted in his 2004 profile.

He had another dream; he wanted to teach the first all-girls class in America to build an airplane.

It didn’t happen. Washburn High School’s principal supported the project, but the school system didn’t have the money. So Denny had to depend on donations to keep the program running.

They didn’t come and Minneapolis public schools closed the program, transferring Denny to the automotive shop.

By then, however, Denny’s work had gotten noticed and other schools around the country picked up his idea.

Denny retired not long after.