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Board weighs aerospace engineering proposal
By Gary Long
The Brownsville Independent School District is hoping the State Board of Education will agree that aerospace engineering should be offered as a CTE Program of Study in high schools statewide.
CTE stands for Career and Technical Education, a new emphasis now that Gov. Rick Perry has signed House Bill 5 into law. On Tuesday, the SBOE will hold a public hearing on the new education law as a prelude to a week of meetings in Austin.
For those meetings, Texas Education Commissioner Michael L. Williams has asked board members to “come up with at least six” proposed CTE course offerings, District 2 member Ruben Cortez of Brownsville said.
“In my conversations with the folks in Brownsville, something in the aerospace engineering realm naturally came up, considering the very real possibility that SpaceX will decide to come here.”
SpaceX, or Space Exploration Technologies Corp., is considering development of a rocket launch facility near Boca Chica Beach to launch Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy orbital launch vehicles and a variety of smaller reusable suborbital vehicles.
Brownsville is the front-runner, but sites in Florida, Puerto Rico and Georgia also are under consideration. Public comment on the project’s environmental impact statement concluded June 24. A site-selection announcement is expected within a few weeks.
SpaceX has a contract to supply the International Space Station, and the launch site would be used for that purpose, officials have said.
With SpaceX on the horizon, Williams’ request for proposed CTE courses comes at an opportune time, Cortez said. An aerospace CTE curriculum could connect with the SpaceX facility, providing internship and other opportunities for Brownsville students and eventually jobs for Brownsville residents, he said.
BISD Superintendent Carl A. Montoya said that because the state is making the request “they’re probably going to help with the funding” if such a program is eventually developed. He added that BISD “already has a little bit of aerospace engineering.”
That would be the aerospace engineering class at Porter High School taught by John Lynch, a mechanical engineer and pilot who came to BISD by way of a manufacturing background. The class, for seniors, is part of an engineering program of study sanctioned by the national Project Lead the Way and among the CTE graduation plans available in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The STEM courses are offered at Hanna, Porter and Veterans Memorial high schools, although aerospace engineering is only available at Porter.
Lynch is certified by Project Lead the Way, a curriculum accredited by a consortium of top colleges and universities including Stanford, Princeton and Duke.
“This stuff is preparing them to go to college and have a major advantage,” Lynch said, adding that students can receive college credit for Project Lead the Way courses they take in high school.
“You’re not just working these formulas as busy work,” he said he tells his students. “You can actually do something with this.”
For example, he said students design an air foil, print it out on a 3-D printer and test it in the wind tunnel in his classroom. They also design their own airplane made of balsa wood and see if it will fly.
Lynch, Tim Snyder, BISD Career and Technical Education administrator, and Erica Sikes, the district’s lead career placement officer, are enthusiastic about the possibility of SpaceX coming to Brownsville.
“We can build our own rocket and notch it up to double the size and launch it from their launchpad,” Snyder said.
Lynch, who is on the Brownsville Economic Development Council’s Launch Brownsville committee for the SpaceX site, sees endless possibilities for internships, field trips and other interaction with the company.
“If SpaceX comes, I’d like to get somebody from their company in my classroom. ... I’d like to see our program of study aligned with what they’re doing out there,” he said.
For the state board to launch a CTE program in aerospace engineering, it would have to go through a formal Texas Education Agency course-creation process, Cortez said.
He said a curriculum committee would have to approve the course content, and naturally he would make sure that Brownsville people were on the panel.
“I think it’s a terrific idea,” he said. “Why not as a school system do something giving our students access to SpaceX?”