NORMAN — The chance to mold the minds of children interested in aviation is what keeps Sam Jansen coming back to the Sooner Flight Academy.
The recent University of Oklahoma graduate and Sooner Flight Academy employee said instructors do some learning of their own during the academy’s day camps for children in kindergarten through 12th grade.
“There are some things that we don’t know,” Jansen said. “We learn them, then we can teach it to the kids. Just being able to teach them that and seeing how excited they get is really what gets us up in the morning.”
Jansen got involved with the academy by recruitment through OU’s Air Force ROTC during the spring of 2013 and worked a couple events at camp during spring break. “Then summer camp last year, stayed with them this year and here we are again,” he said.
Jansen graduated in May with a degree in aviation management, was commissioned through the ROTC program and will be attending Air Force training in Enid.
The OU Sooner Flight Academy is designed to inspire young people to become leaders in the aviation industry and in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
The academy’s summer and school year programs encourage inquiry and exploration with hands-on activities.
“The idea is, not that they understand integral calculus, but when they get to that calculus class, instead of saying, ‘When am I ever going to use this?’ they’ll say, ‘Oh, this is rocket science,’” said academy director Matt Esker.
Esker said each week at camp there are three different camp sessions going at the same time.
“They are all different age groups and they’re doing different activities that are appropriate to their developmental age.”
A GPS scavenger hunt was an activity Esker planned for one of the camps for 12-year-olds. One coordinate tracker, Nash Crouch, has attended the academy six years.
Physics is Crouch’s favorite part of aviation, and he said he has learned many things through the years from the phonetic alphabet and how planes fly, to learning how to help others.
“We went to the National Weather Center on campus and after that I kind of want to work there but I also want to fly.”
Director of OU Aviation, Ken Carson, said campers get introduced to career possibilities through interaction with their recently college-graduated Federal Aviation Administration certified flight instructors.
“It’s pretty amazing to watch these young men and women,” Carson said. “I remember them all as freshmen, and now they’re experts in their career field and then they like to pass that along to their campers and it really responds well to the campers.”
Niki Bray, now a pilot for SkyWest Airlines, shared his excitement about watching a student flying on her own.
“It’s fun to see people progress and know you had a part in that,” he said.
“These students in our program will get about 220 hours in four years (of flying) with a lot more responsibility because we have to teach them a lot more about judgment and aeronautical decision-making,” Carson said.
“I’d put my family with any of our student pilots after they’re ready, that means I believe in the training that well.”
Esker said a couple of campers are in their 11th year at the academy.
“They’ve been here since they were 6 years old and they’ve come every year,” Esker said. “I’m willing to bet that we’ve probably piqued their interest a little bit.”
At the end of the camps the academy asks for feedback from campers, and flying and shooting rockets tend to be the most popular activities.
“When I talk to the parents, the reason they tell me why they like to send their kid to camp is because of the staff, the high teacher-to-student ratio that we have, the personal connection that we make with them to feel welcome,” Esker said.
Esker said the academy is self-funded. The students pay to come to camp and the academy gets grant money.
“The Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission provides a pretty good chunk of our funding, they provide a scholarship program that we apply to help some of these kids to help pay for coming to camp,” he said.
Esker said the first year he was there, five years ago, there were 180 campers and it’s steadily grown. “This year we’re at 317 right now. We go into the third week of July and we’ll register all the way up until the day of.”
If you go
Sooner Flight Academy
For more information about the academy, visit flightcamp.ou.edu.