Penn State

On Centre: Penn State | Students hope to stir STEM interest with Rotor Day

You never know what is going to spark the fire that evolves into an education and a career.

The camera your grandmother gave you for Christmas might turn you into a photographer. That typical 5-year-old boy’s obsession with dinosaurs could grow into a doctorate in paleontology. A chance opportunity to contribute to the school paper could blossom into a life in journalism.

Some Penn State engineering students are hoping that, by exposing kids to the world of flight, they might inspire the next generation of aerospace innovators.

On Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. in Kunkle Lounge, the Penn State American Helicopter Society and international technology and manufacturing company the Lord Corp. will host the university’s first Rotor Day.

What is Rotor Day? Good question. It’s a celebration of getting things off the ground with a spinning blade.

Rotor Day is an outreach event focused on teaching middle school and high school students about rotorcraft technology though hands-on activities and demonstrations. It is free and open to the public, and part of a growing push to get students excited about science, technology, engineering and math.

“If I knew about aerospace engineering and rotorcraft technology when I was in grade school, I would have found my path in life much sooner,” said Jared Soltis, president of the Penn State American Helicopter Society. “I thought if I could get grade school students excited about engineering and helicopters maybe they could find their path in life, too.”

The corporate sponsorship was instrumental in allowing the event to happen, according to Soltis.

“With their generous donation,” he said, “AHS is able to present (a) high-quality educational hands-on demonstration.”

Activities will include seven demonstrations, including how wings produce lift and how helicopters are controlled. There also will be a game show featuring helicopter uses and fun facts. The event comes back to earth with quad-copter relay races where students will have a chance to fly a micro quad-copter though an obstacle course.

It might just be a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. But for someone, it might be the first flight of imagination that makes a career take off.