Friday, 23 August 2019

Aerozone Stansted celebrates 15,000 visitors - interview with education coordinator Alex Smith




In celebration of the Aerozone's 4th birthday and 15,000th visitor, we chat to Alex Smith, education centre coordinator, about the centre’s greatest achievements and what the future holds

Tell us about the Aeozone?

Aerozone Stansted is a hi-tech education centre designed to inspire children and young adults about the key STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths, skills the UK is extremely short of, and bang the drum for careers in the aviation industry.

The £500,000 aviation-themed learning hub opened its doors in 2015 and has so far welcomed an incredible 15,000 children.

We welcome schools and colleges from across the country but in particular Essex, Hertfordshire and Suffolk. They get to experience our range interactive activities, informative videos and resource packs as well meeting staff from across the airport.

A big favourite amongst the children is the viewing platform which has panoramic views across the airfield, so they can watch the airport in full operation.


What’s your role?

First and foremost, my role is to make sure the children have a fun and exciting day at the Aerozone finding out how London’s third busiest airport works and what airport life is all about.

We’ve more than 12,000 people working at Stansted, the biggest single site employer in the region, and I’m responsible for bringing the hundreds of job roles to life to inspire young people visiting the Aerozone to perhaps choose a career at the airport or the aviation sector when they leave school, college or university.

Day to day, I host school visits for children aged 4-18, and then liaise with the airport’s volunteer network to arrange for pilots, airfield rangers, police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, security officers, engineers, customer service ambassadors to visit in their spare time and give the children a glimpse into their working life.

All the activities we set up focus on the key STEM subjects as we recognise there’s a shortage of employees skilled in these areas. We have a variety of interactive hands-on exhibits and audio visual experiences to show how hundreds of planes take off and land and the thousands of passengers travel through the airport safely every day.

What are your highlights from the year?

This is my first year at the airport and it has been a busy one for me, I've certainly learned a lot. Previously, I was a school librarian so my background in education was helpful, however I needed to learn all about aviation, which thanks to all of the wonderful Aerozone volunteers I definitely have.

Highlights include welcoming our 15,000th visitor in June this year, hosting two successful Girls in STEM events, being involved in the airport college opening and visit from Baroness Sugg, Aviation Minister, and getting to be an Airfield Ranger for a day.

But my biggest achievement has been launching the London Stansted Little Book of Travel Tales in celebration of this year's World Book Day. The publication features winning entries to our competition from local students on the theme of airports, aircraft and travel. Look out for copies of the booklet, featuring travel inspired poems, drawings and short stories, in the terminal.

Do you focus on any particular area or subjects?

Our primary focus is on the STEM subjects as they are some of the most relevant to a career in aviation, and particularly how we can encourage more young women to follow a STEM career path. However, we do get school groups coming for all manner of curriculum topics including business studies, local history and geography, people who help us, flight and travel, and careers advice! There’s so much going on at the airport that there isn’t much in the curriculum we can’t link it to.

What feedback do you get from schools after visits?

Feedback from the schools is overwhelmingly positive and on more than one occasion I have been told that the Aerozone visit is the best school trip ever. For some of the students, it’s their first encounter with an airport, or the first time they have seen a plane in real life, which is really inspirational for them. The teachers are always so grateful to the volunteers for giving their time to speak to the students, and the chance for them to ask questions to a real-life pilot, engineer, police officer is invaluable.

Any amusing moments?

Always! It really is true that children say the funniest things, and when you have up to 60 children visiting each day, I’m never short of anecdotes. One funny moment that happens regularly is when we watch our welcome video and a photo of the Queen on a visit to the airport in the 1970s appears. When I ask the children ‘who is that?’ I’ve had answers from Florence Nightingale to Mary Poppins and a few have even guessed that it might be me. Another is the time when we had a visit from Police Dogs Buddy and Holly and a little girl came up to me at the end to tell me about her Nana’s dogs, but they aren’t like Buddy and Holly, because ‘they’re vegetarians’- that certainly made me chuckle! Or, the time when I was accidentally soaked by one of the children having a go with the hose during a visit from the fire fighters; it’s never a dull moment here.

What are you looking forward to?

I’m looking forward now to having all the schools back at the Aerozone after the summer holidays and getting to meet even more students eager to learn about Stansted. I’m also very pleased to be welcoming two groups of airport staff and their children at our Bring Your Kids To Work Day at the end of August. We have so many wonderful volunteers at the Aerozone who come and speak to the children who visit, so it’s really nice to be able to give their own children the same opportunity. If all goes well, this will hopefully be something we can offer up to more staff in the future.

What’s in store for the Aerozone over the next 12 months?

We are always looking for new ways to make visits to the Aerozone more exciting and inspirational so I am currently exploring how we could make use of new technology to make more of the airport experience accessible to the students during visits.

We are also hoping to build on the fantastic work being done by the airport around disability awareness by launching a scheme for children on the autism spectrum to come and learn a bit more about the airport and speak to staff to hopefully relieve any anxieties around travelling through airports.

We will be continuing to build on the fantastic Girls in STEM events held this year with more days dedicated to inspiring more young women to consider careers in aviation and reaching out to even more female colleague to get involved.

In the autumn term we will be relaunching our annual mentoring scheme which pairs colleagues with Year 11 students from our partner schools to give them some guidance and support during their challenging GCSE year.

Looking further ahead to summer 2020 we will be aiming to hit our 20,000th visitor and planning a big celebration to mark this incredible milestone.



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