Annual NCASE Aviation Education Awards Presented at Ceremony in D.C.

From left are James Brough, Shelia Bauer, Ralph Coppola, and Tony Fowler. Photo by Michael Schoen.

The presentation of the Dr. Mervin K. Strickler, Jr. Aerospace Education Leadership Award and the Crown Circle Aerospace Education Leadership Award for 2019 took place on April 11th at the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington D.C.

The awards, which are administered by the National Coalition for Aviation and Space Education (NCASE) are presented each year to recognize performance and outstanding leadership in aerospace education and in the case of the Strickler Award, to recognize individuals or organizations that share his personal commitment and lifelong contributions to aerospace education on the national level. “NCASE Award Committee Co-Chairs, Shelia Bauer, James Brough and their entire committee worked tirelessly this year putting together the program and working to select this year’s awardees,” said Kim Stevens, NCASE Vice President.

Dr. Joseph Kools, Director of Executive and Organizational Development for the Federal Aviation Administration, welcomed guests and honorees to the FAA and provided remarks on behalf of the agency.

Dr. Joseph Kools, FAA Director of Executive and Organizational Development.

Ms. Bauer, FAA (Ret.) and former recipient of the Strickler Award along with Brough, National STEM Aviation and Space Education Program Manager for the FAA, were joined by NCASE Board members, President Rol Murrow, Lisa Bacon and Tony Fowler, to greet and welcome attendees and make the presentations. “These awards are so wonderful for honoring outstanding contributors to aerospace education on the national stage,” said Murrow. “It is our hope that they provide our proper thanks as well as continuing inspiration not only for the recipients, but for all those who work so hard opening the doors to aviation and space education for the next generation of leaders and innovators.”

The Strickler Award was presented to Real World Design Challenge (RWDC), Founder and Executive Director, Ralph Coppola. “When I heard I was receiving the Strickler Award, I was honored to be nominated and selected,” said Coppola. “There have been a select few people who have received this award over the years. All have represented excellence in aviation education and I am proud to join that august group.”

Sam and Marilyn Billings

The 2019 recipient for the Crown Circle Aerospace Education Leadership Award was Youth Aeronautics Education Foundation (YAEF), Samuel and Marilyn Billings, Founders and Chief Executive Officers. “The Crown Circle Award will tremendously impact YAEF’s outreach initiative to expose youth to aerospace and the numerous opportunities in aviation that previously have been unknown and/or unattainable for the targeted population,” said Sam Billings. “YAEF accomplishments have been notable, but our blessing is not merely to accomplish, but to inspire accomplishment in others”.

“This is a great opportunity for us to recognize the great work that is being done around our country in support of aerospace STEM education,” said Brough. ”We are honored and grateful to be able to support NCASE and the recipients of these awards.”

RWDC is an annual high school competition run by a public-private partnership with the goal of sustainably increasing the STEM workforce, and designed to prepare students to be successful in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers and to foster growth in the US and the world.  It is a high school design competition focused on the area of aviation where students work in teams to solve a real world problem using professional tools.

The Real World Design Challenge is the result of two years of focused research on how best to close the STEM workforce skills gap. “We consulted with a group of 80 business, governmental and education organizations that have been focused on STEM education and workforce needs,” said Coppola. “We found that industry sought employees with excellent academic backgrounds with years of ‘real world’ experience. The goal became to develop an engineering experience for high schools students to prepare them for the STEM workforce.”

Coppola said that experience teaches that the engineering design process is at the heart of engineering learning, thus design became a central component of the program.  “It also became apparent that students couldn’t rise to a level of competence without being challenged.  And the whole thrust of the endeavor of creating an environment had to be based in real world experiences.   It was thus that the Real World Design Challenge was born.”

YAEF, now in its 10th year of providing aerospace educational opportunities for youth, is primarily located in the Virginia Peninsula area – Williamsburg, West Bend, Newport News, Hampton Roads, Yorktown and Norfolk. The organization’s mission is to conduct four levels of programs with aeronautics focus for underserved, at-risk and other youth.

The non-profit organization provides hands-on training for youth to encourage them in STEM, leading them to explore aerospace and lifelong opportunities in aviation, preciously viewed as out of reach and unattainable.

Samuel and Marilyn Billings, YAEF founders, retired ten years ago. They then undertook the ambitious plan to give back to the community, with emphasis on underserved youth in and around Williamsburg, Virginia.   Their goal was to help ensure success by stimulating an interest in STEM disciplines. They came to realize that an aviation education program would be an excellent fit to achieve that goal and went on to establish Youth Aviation Educational Foundation.

Dr. Strickler promoted aerospace education for more than 50 years and is considered the “Father of Aerospace Education.” The Dr. Mervin K. Strickler Jr. Award was established in 1995 to recognize individuals or organizations that share his personal commitment and lifelong contributions to aerospace education at the national level.

The Crown Circle Award was established in 1979, to recognize performance and outstanding leadership in aerospace education at the local and/or regional level.  Those seeking this honor must demonstrate involvement in and commitment to aerospace education at the local or regional level.