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Engaging Students Through Innovation

A Perspective from Global Explorer Captain Barrington Irving
Captain Barrington Irving made a risky trip right into history and then into classrooms across the nation to inspire dreams.

In 2007, Captain Irving began a journey around the world. Many kids travel when they are in their twenties, but this journey was very different. This young man was flying solo around the world with only $30 in his pocket after being raised in a crime-ridden part of Miami. He knew he would face many challenges on his trip, but he would literally rise above the drugs, poverty, and crime that had been part of the neighborhood he called home. He was finally living his dream.

Raised in Miami's inner city, surrounded by crime, poverty, and failing schools, he beat the odds. Captain Irving built a plane himself, made his historic flight, graduated magna cum laude from an aeronautical science program, and founded a dynamic educational nonprofit. Then he turned 28.

Irving's nonprofit organization, Experience Aviation, aims to boost the numbers of youth in aviation and other STEM related careers. Middle and high school students attend summer and after-school programs tackling hands-on robotics projects, flight simulator challenges, and field trips to major industries and corporations. In his Build and Soar program, 60 students from failing schools built an airplane from scratch in just 10 weeks and then watched Captain Irving pilot it into the clouds.

After the successful establishment of Experience Aviation, Captain Irving wanted to find a way to inspire millions of students on a larger scale. His next endeavor involved transforming a jet into a flying classroom that has circled the globe sharing science, technology, engineering, math, geography, culture, and history. Students have accompanied Captain Irving to places near and far through engaging in a web-based STEM educational platform called The Flying Classroom.

"Meaningful, real-world learning experiences fire up the neurons in kids' minds," Captain Irving said. "If you don't do that, you've lost them. Purposeful, inspiring activities increase the chance they'll stay on that learning and career path.”

The Flying Classroom has done exactly what Captain Irving intended at the inception of the program. Students, or explorers, across the nation have engaged in expedition lessons and are inspired through engineering design challenges to venture down a STEM career pathway starting in kindergarten. Explorers have completed design challenges on cane toad traps, venom transportation containers, and innovative wing spans.

In regards to his message for children, Captain Irving said: "The only thing that separates you from CEOs in corner offices or scientists in labs is determination, hard work, and a passion for what you want to achieve. The only person who can stop you from doing something great is you. Even if no one believes in your dream, you have to pursue it."

The secret, he said, is having a dream in the first place, and that starts with powerful learning experiences that inspire kids to pursue careers—particularly in science, technology, engineering, and math.

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