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ECSU hosts 153 students at aviation-themed camp

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Orestes Gooden, professor of aviation science at Elizabeth City State University, addresses students attending the NASA Aerospace Academy on the ECSU campus Monday morning. ECSU is hosting 120 middle school students and 33 high school students at the week-long camp, which introduces students to aviation careers and other opportunities in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The camp is one of only nine NASA summer academies nationwide and the only one in North Carolina.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Monday, June 18, 2018

The 2018 NASA Aerospace Academy at Elizabeth City State University took off Monday with the landing of an emergency medical helicopter from Dare County.

ECSU this week is hosting 120 middle school students and 33 high school students from across North Carolina and beyond. The week-long camp, which introduces students to aviation careers and other opportunities in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, is one of only nine NASA summer academies nationwide and the only one in North Carolina.

The camp at ECSU is funded by a grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration along with additional funding from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the Golden LEAF Foundation and the Division of Aviation of the N.C. Department of Transportation.

Kuldeep Rawat, professor of aviation science at ECSU, said students apply for admission to the camp. For the high school students preference is given to students who live a greater distance from the ECSU campus because the students in that age group live on campus during the week. A day camp format is followed for the middle school students.

Rawat said the residential component for the high school students is important because it gives them an introduction to college life, including eating in the cafeteria and using academic resources such as the campus library.

Although the focus of the week is on STEM careers, a few of the students are interested in other career paths but still want to learn about aviation and other technological fields, Rawat said.

Orestes Gooden, professor of aviation science at ECSU, said the university appreciated the crew from Dare County Emergency Medical Services flying their helicopter to Elizabeth City for the demonstration Monday morning.

Eleazar Carey, 15, a student at Churchland High School in Portsmouth, Virginia, said he enjoyed watching the helicopter land and later take off for the flight back to Dare County. Carey said living on campus for the week is fun.

“You get to meet new people, make new friends,” Carey said.

D’Yanna Harris, 14, a student at Hertford County High School in Ahoskie, said the session Monday morning gave her a chance to learn about how helicopters work and also how they are used in emergency medical operations.

She said she’s not sure what career she wants to pursue but does have some interest in engineering.

Carey said he would like to design airplanes. He said he thinks ECSU has a good program in aviation science but he’s also interested in the mechanical engineering program at the University of Maryland.

Darius Witherspoon, 24, a 2017 graduate of ECSU who is serving as a mentor for the Aerospace Academy for the fourth consecutive year, said the academy emphasizes to students the importance of staying in school and shows them possible career paths in aviation and STEM. Although the week has an aviation theme, that emphasis is used to acquaint students with a variety of STEM careers, he said.

“Aviation is the main focus because aviation has so much to do with everything,” Witherspoon said.

Witherspoon said the academy is a wonderful experience because it affords rural students an opportunity to be exposed to aviation.

“I enjoy helping the kids learn about the wonders of aviation,” Witherspoon said.

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