Students at Aerovate Workshop & Competition pose after winning. Dennis Lord, right, is the LA South Bay Experimental Aircraft Association president and former chairman of the LA County Aviation Commission, overseeing 5 county airports. (Image courtesy of Jack Tian)
Troy High School

Column: Students soar to new heights in STEAM 

Most weekends, student athletes can be found practicing their sports at Portola High School in Irvine. In a sense, the Jeffrey Trail Science Olympiad invitational was no different, except that rather than competing with their bodies, middle school students competed with their minds — all 1,200 of them.

However, this year, something was different.

In the main gym, middle schoolers launched their bottle rockets and flew their balsa gliders — small, wood model planes. A group of elementary school students were flying their own balsa gliders and paper airplanes.

In fact, like the middle schoolers, these elementary schoolers were competing for the Science Olympiad medals awarded for the longest flying balsa glider and paper airplanes.

This competition was part of a new outreach program, the product of a partnership between Jeffrey Trail Science Olympiad and Aerovate, a nonprofit organization I founded to share my passion for the sciences.

We run many events similar to the one at Jeffrey Trail, in an effort to empower students in STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

“Normally, when it comes to anything educational, my kid is itching to get out,” a parent of a competitor said. “Today, he was begging to stay.”

Nevertheless, Aerovate isn’t just about the elementary students it hosts competitions for. It is also a learning experience for the high school student volunteers involved.

Aerovate strives to teach its volunteers essential soft skills such as teamwork, business management and responsibility. Above all, volunteers have fun, instilling a lifelong appreciation for service.

Since our beginning, we have impacted close to 2,000 students, volunteers and adults through our airplane competitions, fun lessons and community service events. We now have multiple chapters in California, Wisconsin and Taiwan with each chapter holding events.

Volunteers are mainly high schoolers, and they not only help run events, but also fundraise and help families in need, the homeless, veterans, senior citizen, and at-risk youth. (Photo courtesy of Jack Tian)

However, we weren’t always this organized. The summer after sophomore year, I had begun to rediscover my interest in the fields of STEAM, in particular aerospace engineering.

I wanted to share my newfound interest, but I wasn’t really sure how. There are already thousands of volunteer tutor organizations out there, and I wanted to create something different, something with a spark of innovation.

I found this spark one day thinking about my own experiences in Science Olympiad. I had always been heavily involved in Science Olympiad and I realized the competition aspect could be my spark. However, unlike Science Olympiad, I wanted Aerovate to be student-run so that we could benefit both the competitors and volunteers.

In the beginning, it was tough. Since it was on summer break, the only way to reach people was through social media. In that time frame, I became a master at both sliding into people’s DMs and handling rejection.

Eventually, I was able to get a few people who were interested, and we decided to hold a summer competition. From there, our organization grew into what it was today. You can learn more about our story on the Aerovatewebsite, or visit the Jeffrey Trail Science Olympiad website.

A competitor holds his launcher, the rubber band “slingshot” that’s capable of launching gliders to heights of over 50 feet. (Image courtesy of Jack Tian)