In an effort to make more engineers and potentially keep them in Michigan, the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering has entered into a unique collaboration with the West Michigan Aviation Academy, a charter high school.
Through the agreement, students at the high school will have access to a deeper engineering curriculum and a clearer path to the state’s flagship university.
Officials from both institutions signed a partnership agreement at a public event at the academy on Tuesday, May 19. Speakers included Dick DeVos, founder of the academy and former Amway CEO; and David Munson, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering at U-M.
Initially geared toward students who want to learn how to build or fly airplanes, the West Michigan Aviation Academy opened in 2010 on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. It pulls from 40 diverse districts and selects students by lottery for its 600 spots. The school graduated its first seniors in 2014 and it’s in the process of broadening its engineering offerings. Through the new partnership, U-M faculty and staff will help steer that effort.
“We’re ecstatic about this partnership,” said Pat Cwayna, CEO of the school (essentially its principal.) “We’re just getting started with our engineering curriculum and as we progress as a high school, we’re going to be looking to Michigan to guide us.”
Earlier this semester, a group of students from the academy visited Michigan Engineering’s Design Expo, a science fair-style event during which students showcase their hands-on projects. Experiences like that, says Cwayna, can help high school students “formulate their dreams.”
The partnership coincides with the announcement of the J. Scott Grill Scholarship Fund for Aerospace Engineers. Grill, a Grand Rapids native who received his bachelor’s from Michigan Engineering in 1964, focused his studies on aeronautical engineering. He spent ten years working for McDonnell Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach, California. The fund, established through a $150,000 gift from the estate of J. Scott Grill, will provide annual scholarships to full-time undergraduate students who are interested in pursuing an aerospace engineering degree. Preference for this scholarship will be given to students from the West Michigan Aviation Academy.
“The University of Michigan is committed to ensuring that cost is not a barrier for any Michigan resident pursuing an undergraduate degree at the U-M. This scholarship is a wonderful example of how our alumni help us meet that commitment,” said Jeanne Murabito, College of Engineering executive director of student affairs.
The academy is the newest of Michigan Engineering’s more than 50 partner secondary schools – 20 of which are in Michigan.
Through the partner school program, the college promotes science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields and encourages students to apply to U-M. High school students at partner institutions have opportunities to participate in hands-on activities at U-M and on their own campus. They receive mentoring from U-M alumni, students and industry partners.
The partnerships help Michigan Engineering attract talented students.
“The University of Michigan is pleased to join with the West Michigan Aviation Academy to chart our course for the second century of aviation, and to celebrate an innovative partnership to develop the aviators and aerospace engineers of the future,” said David Munson, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering.