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Focus on the Workforce: DreamLearners: Inspiring the Next Generation of Airplane Builders

Tim Deaton  






By Tim Deaton
Boeing South Carolina

Kids throwing paper airplanes in the classroom is usually frowned upon. However, teachers are clamoring to have their students do just that as part of Boeing South Carolina’s DreamLearners program, which is helping to spark the interest of the next generation of airplane designers and builders while giving them a greater understanding of Boeing’s expanding operations in South Carolina.

On any given day, a school busload of students may be found at the Boeing facility in North Charleston, SC, where 787 Dreamliners are built. From their vantage point in the Final Assembly building Tour Balcony, the wide-eyed students gawk in amazement as they watch the twin-aisle airplanes being assembled on the production floor below. For many, this is the closest they have ever been to a large commercial jetliner. Little do they know that while they’re having fun, they’re also learning a bit of the science and math of airplane design.

“We have become the area’s hottest field trip destination,” said Shannon Kammer, BSC Education Relations specialist. “Since the program began in August 2012, we have had more than 7500 students and teachers from almost every school district in the state participate in DreamLearners.” The program typically hosts one school group per day, and slots are filled up months in advance. “DreamLearners has grown just by word of mouth, and we’re now trying to find ways to increase our capacity to meet the demand,” Kammer said.

The goal of DreamLearners is to enhance student and teacher awareness of Boeing South Carolina (BSC) through learning experiences and exposure to business and industry, and as a result inspire the next generation of BSC teammates. The program provides students an introduction to the 787 Dreamliner and Boeing’s production process, as well as an overview of aerodynamics and flight. At the same time, DreamLearners aligns with state academic standards for science and math.

A student from West Ashley Middle School in Charleston, SC takes her team’s paper airplane creation for a test flight. Students in Boeing’s DreamLearners program learn a bit about the science and business of airplane production.

Boeing South Carolina teammates fabricate, assemble and install systems for aft fuselage sections of the 787 Dreamliner and join and integrate midbody fuselage sections flown in from supplier facilities around the world. These aft and midbody components are delivered to final assembly in Everett, WA, and North Charleston, SC. BSC also produces and delivers fully assembled 787 Dreamliners to customers around the world.

Just a few miles away from the main campus, Boeing teammates fabricate stow bins, crew rests, and other interior components for the 787 at the Interiors Responsibility Center South Carolina. Boeing recently broke ground on the new Propulsion South Carolina facility, which will be located adjacent to the interiors facility and will produce engine nacelle inlets for Boeing’s new 737 MAX airplanes.

A new Engineering Design Center, Information Technology Center of Excellence, Manufacturing Technology Center, and new paint facility will grow Boeing’s footprint in South Carolina even further in the coming years, and place a greater emphasis on the need for highly-skilled, qualified employment candidates.

“The future long-term success of our site will depend to a large extent on a workforce that is currently in elementary and middle school,” said Jack Jones Boeing South Carolina vice president and general manager. “It’s our responsibility to invest now in their education and help shape their learning experience so that in 10, 15 or even 20 years and beyond, they will be envisioning, designing and producing the next generations of airplanes.”

The DreamLearners program has been well received by school officials. “The program works well with our STEM approach to education—science, technology, engineering and math. It demonstrates how experiences we have in the classroom can, and should, always be related back to actual real-world experiences. Students have a tendency to grasp concepts better when they are relevant,” said Jane Kolb, Dorchester County District 2 science director.

Shannon Kammer (center), a Boeing South Carolina Education Relations specialist, explains the paper airplane competition to two West Ashley Middle School students. In the exercise, each member of the team has a specific role to play that contributes to the team’s success, be it mechanic, finance manager, supplier management, or pilot.

Each DreamLearners session begins with a quick review of the basic elements of flight—lift, weight, drag and thrust—how they act upon the airplane in flight, and how the various structures and systems on the airplane work together to increase or overcome these forces.

The highlight of the DreamLearners experience is the paper airplane competition, in which students are divided into teams to design, build and fly an airplane—all on schedule and within a set budget. Just as in Boeing’s production system, each student has a specific role to play that contributes to the team’s success, be it mechanic, finance manager, supplier management, or pilot. Each team is given a fixed amount of “money” to be used to purchase supplies and blueprints, cover payroll, and assemble and test a prototype airplane. At the end of the session, the teams have a fly-off competition to see whose design flies farthest.

The students soon realize that not all airplanes are designed for distance, and even paper thickness can have an impact. “We built a lot of variables into the exercise—such as a variety of airplane designs and different weights of paper—so that the students will work together as a team to evaluate the designs, choose the best materials and budget their time and finances to complete the task,” said Frank Hatten, BSC Education Relations specialist.

“The students are in awe of the 787 airplanes when they see them for the first time, and they have a great time while here, but at the same time they’re learning some things that just might spark an interest in a future career at Boeing,” Hatten said.

While the emphasis of DreamLearners is the onsite tour, volunteers also take the program to the schools through the DreamLearners Speakers Bureau. In the past two years, BSC teammates have reached out to more than 18,000 students at career fairs and other school events across South Carolina. “We want to expose as many students as possible to aviation and to Boeing. If they can’t come to us, we will take a portion of the program to them,” Hatten said.

As for the students, they come away from the DreamLearners experience having had a glimpse of the complexity involved in designing and building an airplane. “I think it’s amazing that it takes days and weeks to build just one airplane,” concluded Zyshonne Simmons, a student from North Charleston’s Morningside Middle School.

To learn more about Boeing South Carolina’s DreamLearners, contact the program at ME


This article was first published in the May 2014 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF

Published Date : 5/1/2014

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