FAA ambassador wows at elementary school, kicks off ERAU project at middle school

http://www.myhometownnews.net/index.php?id=32285

from Hometown News
October 12, 2007

DAYTONA BEACH — At 23, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University graduate Jamail Larkins has already accomplished more than most people twice his age.

But, because he credits his role models for his career as a show pilot, he decided three years ago to give back. And he’s been doing it ever since.

Now Mr. Larkins, the Federal Aviation Administration’s first ambassador for aviation and aerospace education, travels the United States 21 days a month on his DreamLaunch Tour, teaching students about aviation — and ambition.

The Tour finally brought Mr. Larkins back to his adopted home last week, as he made his presentation, “The Sky’s the Limit When it Comes to Achieving your Dreams” at Westside Elementary School and Campbell Middle School Oct. 2.

Though his morning presentation at Westside was cut short by a tornado warning that had the 160 fourth- and fifth-graders spilling out of the cafeteria into their classrooms, Mr. Larkins did have time to make his speech and answer a few questions.

Kids giggled as Mr. Larkins showed a video clip of himself in the cockpit, and they listened intently as he told the story of how he first got inside a plane.

He was a sixth-grader when he took a free flight with the Experimental Aircraft Association Young Eagles program, which gives children ages 8-17 the chance to fly in a small airplane with a seasoned pilot. He said the moment he put his hands on the controls, it clicked.

“Ten years ago when I first started taking flying lessons at the age of 12, I never would have thought I’d have the opportunity not only to learn how to fly, but to start my own company, purchase my own aircraft before I graduated high school, go to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University,” he said, “or even become an ambassador for the Federal Aviation Administration.

“But all of that has happened in my short life, and all of that can happen for you and even more, but it’s up to you to make your dreams become a reality and live your life to the fullest,” he added.

Most of the questions the students asked focused on fear: They wanted to know if Mr. Larkins had ever crashed, faced an emergency, gotten sick in the plane or been afraid.

They also wanted to know what it felt like to fly, particularly in shows.

“It’s kind of like a roller coaster, is how I like to describe it,” he said. “You do loops, rolls, hammerhead spins and all sorts of different aerobatic maneuvers.”

Westside guidance counselor Gail O’Leary said most of the children had never been exposed to the aviation industry before.

This was the first true career presentation many of them have had, and Ms. O’Leary said she appreciated that Mr. Larkins mentioned the importance of a college degree.

“By fourth and fifth grade they have heard about college, and they might have older brothers and sisters who are on that path,” she said. “We introduce them to this and let them know they can do it, too.”

Mr. Larkins was also on hand at Campbell Middle School in the afternoon to kick off the school’s unique “Piloting Your Future through Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics” program.

He said he was surprised he did not encounter one of his most common career obstacles while at Campbell.

“Most of the time when I’m walking through (the halls at a middle school or high school), I’ll still get stopped by teachers asking me if I’m supposed to be there,” he said, cracking his boyish grin.

Campbell is the first middle school in the county to offer students a chance to prepare for the aviation academies that are offered at 10 county high schools, Volusia County School District Superintendent Margaret Smith said.

The school will offer 289 sixth-graders the opportunity to learn more about aviation through hands-on projects, field trips and free flights with the Young Eagles program at Spruce Creek Fly-in.

ERAU started the program with a $33,000 donation and will continue to fund it this year. Students will also be invited to an ERAU summer camp and, in six years, will have the opportunity to receive scholarships and discounts to attend ERAU, university president John Johnson said.

These “bridge programs” will prepare students earlier with basic math and science concepts necessary to enroll at ERAU, he said.

In the future, the university will need to attract a more diverse student population, President Johnson added. In particular, ERAU would like more minority students like Mr. Larkins and women students, who will soon make up 65 percent of college entrants. ERAU would also like to see more local applicants.

President Johnson said ERAU’s faculty and student population is currently 80 percent white male.

“If Embry-Riddle is only attracting . white males, we’re losing big time,” he said. “Embry-Riddle has got to be more aggressive . at trying to get African-American students and young women.”

In the school’s cafeteria, students lined up to meet their mentors from the ERAU Navy ROTC and to see some of the science projects they will be working on this year.

Clay Courington, wearing the new navy blue T-shirt students received for their involvement, said he got an A on his science fair project, “Does the size of wire and circuits matter?” last year, an idea his friend Eddie Rapoano said he came up with. Someday Clay wants to be a technical engineer like his father, he said.

Their friend, Austin Ansorge, said he hopes to be the student chosen to attend U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., the program’s big end-of-year prize for one top student.

He said he was glad the school was trying to get more girls involved in the field, especially because “the more girls, the better at space camp.”

Their classmate, 11-year-old Sahdyah Morgan, is the type of student ERAU is trying to attract: a black female with a love of math. Right now, though, she said, she would like to go to Florida State University and become a fashion designer like the ones on America’s Next Top Model.

“I just like challenging things,” she said.

Sharon Kim, a senior business administration major at ERAU, is one of the Navy ROTC mentors.

She said she deals with discrimination as an Asian woman in the field “all the time,” and hopes students like Ms. Morgan can learn from her.

“It takes a little while for people to approve of you,” she said, “but the challenges you face help you to know what’s in you.”

Public Relations Contact: Rosica Strategic Public Relations

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