Thousands of students in Florida have received a head start on college by taking courses in their high schools through Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Gaetz Aerospace Institute, the largest aerospace/aviation-related dual enrollment program in the country.
Since its official launch in 2004, courses provided by the Gaetz Aerospace Institute, including a secondary outreach program, are now found in more than 140 schools statewide serving more than 6,500 students. The concurrent/dual enrollment portion of the program, which provides students with opportunities for an accelerated college degree, is now in almost 90 high schools in close to 40 counties across Florida this school year and has expanded outside the state.
The college credit program focuses on classes in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). From aviation fundamentals and flight training, to unmanned aircraft systems (drones) and spaceflight operations, new course offerings continue to be added each year.
The Gaetz Aerospace Institute, formerly Aerospace Career Academy, started as a collaborative effort between Embry-Riddle and the State of Florida 14 years ago to broaden the participation of Florida’s secondary school students in Aerospace and STEM-related classes. STEM degree–related job vacancies are exploding, with estimates of more than 2.6 million available positions in the U.S. through 2024, with the majority requiring a post-secondary education.
The STEM–based classes are taught by 125 college-credentialed high school teachers. Tuition and books are free. Embry-Riddle faculty routinely visit the classrooms working with teachers and students to ensure that the courses reflect the same rigorous curriculum offered on the university’s campuses.
Students participating in Gaetz-sponsored programs can also receive $2,000 scholarships per year to attend Embry-Riddle and are eligible for additional scholarships up to $22,400. Hundreds of Gaetz students have graduated from or are enrolled now at Embry–Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus.
“The Gaetz Aerospace Institute really does help prepare you for college,” said Jayde King, who is the first Gaetz graduate pursuing a Ph.D. at Embry-Riddle. “It’s a great way to immerse yourself into the aviation culture and is a great learning experience.”
King obtained her bachelor’s degree in Air Traffic Management in three years because of the college courses she took over four years at Boynton Beach Community High School. She received her master’s in Human Factors in 2016 and hopes to complete her Ph.D. in Human Factors in January, before starting a job with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
“By preparing students with real-life skills and knowledge, we are working hand-in-hand with government, industries and local school district partners to guarantee a pipeline of talent for Florida’s growing aerospace and aviation industry,” said Colleen Conklin, executive director for the Gaetz Aerospace Institute and assistant professor in the College of Aviation at the Daytona Beach Campus.
Other states have also shown interest in the innovative, STEM–related concurrent/dual enrollment program. Illinois started offering the program in 2013 and this year the Gaetz Aerospace Institute’s high school curriculum series called SMART@ER (Science, Math, Aviation/Aerospace, Robotics, Technology @ Embry-Riddle) is expanding to Ohio and Louisiana.
“As professors, educators, administrators and mentors, Gaetz is helping shape future generations,” said Embry-Riddle alumna Hilary Stevens, Gaetz’s director of Private Pilot Operations and an assistant professor teaching the program at Flagler Palm Coast High School and Atlantic High School in Port Orange.
Embry-Riddle sophomore Juan Pena Jr., who is majoring in Aeronautical Science and wants to be a commercial airline captain, said the Gaetz program at Lely High School in Naples and in particular the private pilot operations course “gave me a good foundation for the future.” Not only did he start at Embry-Riddle with 15 credits toward his degree program, he also earned his private pilot’s license at age 17.
Maxwell Kline, who is seeking a master’s and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at Embry-Riddle after recently receiving his bachelor’s degree, was in the program at St. Augustine High School. He said it not only kept him engaged with friends from the program after high school, but “kept me informed as to the best methods of getting scholarships and other opportunities to make my Embry-Riddle dream a reality.”
To learn more about the Gaetz Aerospace Institute and course offerings, go to https://erau.edu/gaetz-aerospace-institute/.
Embry-Riddle also offers an additional dual enrollment program opportunity with online coursework and in schools throughout the nation. For more information, go to https://dualenrollment.erau.edu/home/.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the world’s largest, fully accredited university specializing in aviation and aerospace, is a nonprofit, independent institution offering more than 80 baccalaureate, master’s and Ph.D. degree programs in its colleges of Arts & Sciences, Aviation, Business, Engineering and Security & Intelligence. Embry-Riddle educates students at residential campuses in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Prescott, Ariz., through the Worldwide Campus with more than 125 locations in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and through online programs. The university is a major research center, seeking solutions to real-world problems in partnership with the aerospace industry, other universities and government agencies. For more information, visit erau.edu, follow us on Twitter (@EmbryRiddle) and facebook.com/EmbryRiddleUniversity, and find expert videos at YouTube.com/EmbryRiddleUniv.