Central New Jersey-Based Program Joins 2011 WAI Conference To
Showcase A Comprehensive Business Education Partnership
Leaders of a business-education partnership in Central New
Jersey are participating in the 22nd Annual International Women in
Aviation Conference, and showcasing a comprehensive,
community-based approach to stimulating and sustaining interest in
STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) through the lens of
Alexandria Field (N85) Photo By Jim O'Donnell
Since the September 2010 award of a $100,000 Department of
Transportation (DOT) Garrett A. Morgan Technology and
Transportation Education Program (GAMTTEP) grant, this Central
Jersey collaborative has made significant progress in demonstrating
how a local airport can be transformed into a "Living Laboratory"
by partnering with a local school districts and creating a strong
aviation ecosystem to introduce, educate and guide young people to
STEM related careers in aviation.
It seems fitting that we showcase the Central Jersey GAMTTEP
program at Women in Aviation," said Program Director Linda Fritsche
Castner, part-owner/operator of Alexandria Field Airport (N85) in
Pittstown, NJ. "I've always wanted our airport to be a place that
brought out the best in people, especially young women. We operate
a flight school and it was over ten years ago that I asked the
question, 'why don't more women learn to fly'?"
Ms. Castner initiated a research project in 1998. During this
process, she also participated in the 2001 WAI conference and
interviewed participants to understand what motivated women who are
clearly inspired by aviation. "The interviews at WAI were helpful.
It confirmed my assumptions that many young women with an interest
in aviation were exposed to aviation early in their lives." The
project was kicked into a formal research mode in 2003 and included
another WAI member, Dr. Sue Stafford, professor at Simmons College,
aircraft owner and instrument rated pilot. After seven years of
formal research, design, demonstration and documentation, the
effort resulted in the development of the "Women Take Flight" and
"Leaders Take Flight" workshops.
Linda Fritsche Castner
The results Castner says, were impressive. "Most, if not all,
workshop participants would never have considered flying in a small
airplane," she said. "However, after completion of the workshop,
the immediate response was elation and more importantly, the longer
term impacts were significant. While most workshop participants did
not pursue additional flight training, some did, and the majority
reported, in their words, an increase in 'self-confidence',
'self-respect', 'self esteem' and 'empowerment'. "I can always draw
on this experience as a reference that I can accomplish things that
are far outside [my] normal boundaries," said one participant. "If
I can fly an airplane, I can do anything," said another.
Castner said she and Dr. Stafford also realized that the power
of these workshops was in documenting what they call 'The Flying
Effect'. "What we are hoping to do with the Garrett Morgan grant",
says Stafford, "is to bring the Take Flight workshop experience and
The Flying Effect to teachers and students of STEM and demonstrate
how an aviation based program can inspire confidence, adaptability
and collaboration - important leadership traits necessary to
successfully complete a demanding STEM education and improve
teaching in the classroom."
"Once we launched the GAMTTEP program in the fall 2010, we started
to get inquiries from other general aviation airports and from
universities, such as Rutgers, who see the potential of this
workshop in building leadership and confidence amongst faculty and
incoming students pursuing STEM careers," said Castner. Faculty
from Rutgers will be participating in the Leaders Take Flight
workshop this summer. "Another example", said Castner "is Johnson
& Johnson's Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). Central
Jersey GAMTTEP will be partnering with WISE in May 2011 for a STEM
Exploration Day. "Alexandria Field has always been part of the
community", says Ms. Castner, "but we realized that to generate
interest in aviation that we needed a comprehensive program that
reached out to multiple age groups and provided a variety of
sustainable activities to mentor student interests over time.
Programs funded by the DOT grant include the Aviation Science Club,
Engineering Tours and Education, extensive outreach to community
groups, Aviation Science Camps, internships and job shadowing and
two 'Take Flight' workshops.
Leaders Take Flight Participant
"This program has created a stronger role for the airport and
improved our visibility and importance to the community," Castner
continued. "In awarding the Garrett Morgan grant, DOT specifically
recognized that what we are doing here at Alexandria Field has
strong potential as a national model."
There are nearly 20,000 airports throughout the U.S. and include
over 1,100 airports like Alexandria Field, privately owned, but
open to the public. Combine this with over 15,000 K-12 school
districts, an estimated 1.7 million K-12 STEM educators, a
increased focus on STEM in higher education, and a host of exciting
programs that need a "Living Laboratory" to call home.
"We are thankful to DOT for the grant, but it won't last
forever," says Castner. "That is why we have initiated fundraising
activities such as the Courtesy Car project, supported by the local
chamber of commerce. We have also initiated an outreach program to
educate the aviation and STEM communities about the potential of
this model. "We specifically chose WAI as our first stop on a
yearlong outreach effort."