More than a field trip: 2023 Crossroads Air Show helping to cultivate the next generation

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Students had the opportunity to test out flight simulators and engage with career professionals in STEM related fields during the Soaring Students Community Day at the Indianapolis Regional Airport on Oct. 27, 2023. (Photo/Chloe McGowan)
Students had the opportunity to test out flight simulators and engage with career professionals in STEM related fields during the Soaring Students Community Day at the Indianapolis Regional Airport on Oct. 27, 2023. (Photo/Chloe McGowan)

The 2023 Crossroads Air Show drew in massive crowds the weekend of Oct. 27-29, but the most important visitors might have been the busloads of students who swarmed the Indianapolis Regional Airport on Oct. 27 for the Soaring Students Community Day.

Presented by the Crossroads of America Council, Soaring Students Community Day presented approximately 500 students with the opportunity for hands-on learning and real-world applications of STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. Made possible by a grant from the Lilly Foundation, the event hosted eight local schools from Central Indiana and an aviation club from Hancock County Schools for a day of flight simulations, static displays, food and music before wrapping up the fun with a practice run of the Oct. 28 air show.

“When you think about changing the trajectory of a student — and any student of color — this could be life changing, and they could pursue a career in STEM,” Shannon Williams, COO and executive vice president of The Mind Trust, said. “But we really just want students to take an interest in it first. They’re all sixth through eighth grade, so this is a really pivotal time for them to get excited about it.”

A field trip for local IPS, charter and innovation schools, the event also posed as a rare, hands-on, educational experience, Williams said. Students had the opportunity to engage with local aviation experts and STEM industry professionals, interact with static displays and test out flight simulators, and engage in a Q&A with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels before watching an in-air rehearsal.

“In many ways, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some of these students,” Williams said. “When you think about how young the students are or even their experiences, some of them may not have even been on a plane, so to actually experience all this up close and personal is just really cool.”

When it comes to aspects of STEM, Williams said the earlier students are introduced to those areas, the better because it helps to not only generate interest, but excitement surrounding the next generation of engineers, scientists and aviators.

WNBA Champion, Hall of Famer and local business owner Tamika Catchings was representing her nonprofit organization Catch the Stars Foundation — which provides youth with fitness, literacy and mentoring programs to help them achieve their dreams — at the Soaring Students Community Day.

Catchings brought along her nephew, who is in middle school, to introduce him to new opportunities in the field of STEM that are often overlooked.

“Being able to have the exposure is the most important part,” Catchings said. “Sometimes you get stuck in one area … but being able to open your eyes to different experiences, I think, is really important, and these don’t happen every single day. So, you take advantage of the opportunities; take advantage of how you can grow; how you can learn.”

Throughout the rest of the weekend, guests were invited to watch the Blue Angels Air Show, interact with the Tuskegee Airmen exhibit and featured ground activities based in STEM and aviation as well as historical artifacts, and enjoy a family fun zone, bounce houses, mascots and an array of educational booths.

Williams said the proceeds from ticket sales go toward supporting funding for the Boy Scouts as well as benefiting the Lilly Foundation, Riley Children’s Hospital and Catch the Stars Foundation. For more information, visit crossroadsbsa.org/crossroads-air-show.

Contact staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848 or chloegm@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.