By: Kim Baseman
In 2010, I was attending Minnesota State University, Mankato when Cheri Rohlfing, my now mentor, approached me about helping out with something called ACE Camp. Minnesota Aviation Career Education (ACE) Camp, co-sponsored by the FAA and the MnDOT Office of Aeronautics, is directed toward high school juniors and seniors and focuses on exposing them to the aviation industry. It is a week-long camp filled with tours, flights, speakers, and so much more. Each day during the week is packed: often times the students are on adventures from around 8:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. every day.
Throughout the camp’s history, students have had the opportunity to experience some really cool things. For example, students take part in C-130 flights, general aviation flights, glider flights, helicopter flights, simulator flights, flight attendant training, hanger tours, and FBO tours. In addition to those fun and educational activities, students also experience engineering tours, air traffic control tower tours, create their own hot air balloons out of paper, tour a facility that makes floats for planes, tour museums, hear about drones, listen to a talk on aircraft fire fighting, just to name a few. To be exposed to this at a young age allows the students to go into the industry with an open mind and the knowledge that there many possibilities are out there.
There are two of these camps over the summer: one for a week in June and one for a week in July. ACE Camp accepts roughly 30 applications for both camps and are aided by 7-10 counselors. Each of the counselors have a background in aviation and the expertise to guide the students throughout their time at the camp. Some of the counselors are students, some are controllers, some are pilots, and some are military members. The varied background of the counselors really allows the students to be exposed to all different aviation perspectives throughout the week.
Beginning the Journey
I had my first “real” exposure to ACE Camp in July 2010. Cheri had asked if I would be willing to be a counselor and, after hearing about it for approximately 10 seconds, I jumped at the opportunity. I found out that even as a counselor you get to tag along on all of the exciting aviation adventures. It was wonderful to watch the students grow and contribute to their learning during this week. You get to see their eyes light up, the excited whispers amongst one another, and watch their dreams come to life right before their eyes.
As the week goes on, their dreams change or ideas grow, and, as a counselor, it was so rewarding to watch that happen. What I didn’t realize right away, was that it was happening to me too. I would say this week at ACE camp help guide my career path. To this day, I see professionals in the aviation industry not realize what all goes into helping them be successful in their own career, or not see what is possible in the aviation industry. Thanks to ACE camp, I have a much different perspective.
In 2011, I was asked to return as an ACE Camp counselor, and, once again, I jumped at the opportunity to make a difference in the way that I had before. This time, I went to camp as a fresh graduate with two bachelor’s degrees and my car literally packed full of my belongings. I was ready for my next adventure in a different state, ready to hit the road as soon as ACE Camp was over to pursue my career as a pilot. Personally and professionally, I grew during this camp just as I did during my first experience. ACE Camp came and went once again, leaving me more enthusiastic about my next adventure. Just as before, I didn’t notice immediately how another year at ACE Camp had changed me until a few months later when I decided to go back to school for a different aviation-related degree.
Sharing the Experience Today
This year, Cheri reached out to me and asked if I would like to be a part of their “Mentor for the Day” program at ACE Camp. I, of course, jumped at the opportunity just as I had in the past. This time, however, I was able to bring even more aviation experience and a part of my company, JETPUBS, to the camp. After learning about the possibility for involvement, JETPUBS was excited to contribute to the camp and support this educational organization.
The day I was set to be the mentor, the students were also slotted to fly in a C-130. This experience being an incredibly rare and exciting occasion for the students, JETPUBS decided to put together an ACE Camp cockpit poster of the C-130.
Toward the end of the day, after the students were starting to get a little exhausted, I had the chance to stand up in front of the class, tell them a little bit about myself and my company and hand out the cockpit posters. The students sat up right away in their seats when I pulled out the posters. You could see their eyes light up and I heard a few murmurs while I was talking along the lines of: “YES!” “This is awesome.” “We all get one?” and “Thank you!” The JETPUBS cockpit poster is something they can take with them long after the camp has ended to remember one of the most exciting weeks of their high school education.
Reflection for the Future
Spending two summers as an ACE Camp counselor was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. It is unlike any camp for students at this age. They are given the opportunity to experience aspects of aviation that most adults don’t get the chance to experience and make lasting connections in the industry. I still keep in contact with many past students and counselors from my time with the organization; all of whom have gone on to accomplish great things in the industry. Even today, I picture the class of students heading home after the camp, hanging their new C-130 poster on the wall, and seeing it as a constant reminder to pursue their aviation dreams. Each one of the ACE Camp students has the ability to change our industry, and I consider it a great privilege to witness the beginning of their journeys.