The unpredictability of COVID-19 forced Carolinas Aviation Museum to re-think its operations.
Carolinas Aviation Museum (CAM) had big plans to launch a $20 million Capital Campaign in March 2020 to raise money for a new facility. When COVID-19 hit, the campaign was put on hold, resulting in an anticipated loss of $450,000. As the pandemic stretched from weeks to months, the organization also had to make significant changes to its operations.
“We had to cut staff, reduce salaries, and decrease operating expenses by 48% to adjust to the economic environment during COVID,” Stephen Saucier, President of Carolinas Aviation Museum said. “With these steps taken, the museum’s capacity to provide its services and programs was diminished.”
Despite the economic challenges that came with COVID-19, Carolinas Aviation Museum was determined to adapt and keep its impactful education programs running.
The organization relied on several loans and grants to continue its mission-based education programs, particularly for Title 1 students who were economically disadvantaged.
With the support of Charlotte Open For Business’ Workforce Partner Support Grant and in partnership with Queen City Robotics Alliance (QCRA), Carolinas Aviation Museum facilitated an online STEM program and offered after school career-focused virtual STEM/aviation education programs over a six-week period. The programs served 62 Title 1 middle school students and included 14 additional high school students who were program instructors and mentors.
“The Workforce Partner Support Grant was essential in funding our ongoing community STEM education programs,” Saucier said. “As a result of receiving this funding, the Carolinas Aviation Museum could operate as a community education outreach program while designing our new facility and resuming our Capital Campaign.”
The virtual STEM programs connected students to experiences such as engineering design, 3-D modeling/printing, and robotics. The program also linked to career pathways and role models in STEM/aviation.
The grant funding provided student instructors, technology support, web-based memberships and registrations, robot building material, and education kits. It also helped cover the cost of QCRA program team support fees and administrative expenses.
During a time of uncertainty, the Carolinas Aviation Museum provided hope for teachers, students, and parents through virtual learning.
Using satisfaction surveys, CAM confirmed students overwhelmingly enjoyed their educational experience.
“We found 100% of students either ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that they feel excited to learn more about engineering, computer programming/coding, and 3-D modeling,” Saucier said. “Additionally, 90% of students either ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that the program introduced them to new career options in engineering, computer programming/coding, and 3-D modeling.”
Teachers saw the impact of the program as well. Don Robbins, a Project Lead The Way & Gateway to Technology teacher from Coulwood STEM Academy, explained that he was grateful to have found the museum’s programs that expanded his students’ knowledge of technologies, activities, and careers during COVID-19.
“We have been able to allow many of our amazing students to experience hands-on activities and learn about the
design process, various engineering opportunities, how things fly, careers available to them, and more,” Robbins said. “The positive comments from our students and their parents confirm that these opportunities are important and effective.”
A camp participant and rising 7th grader at Coulwood STEM Academy, Pearl Ervin added: “I just want to thank everyone involved in this camp for the support and help. I’m so thankful to be here.”
As Carolinas Aviation Museum looks toward the future, the organization plans to take lessons learned from their programs and grow its virtual model to reach even more economically disadvantaged students.
— Carolinas Aviation Museum received a Workforce Partner Support Grant from Charlotte Open For Business. Through the grant program, the City of Charlotte has awarded $3.5 million to workforce partners to provide programs for our community.