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Students' Futures are Soaring in the Aviation Class

Students' Futures are Soaring in the Aviation Class

Embarking on the flight path to their future, Mt. Vernon High School seniors Maria Downs and Tyler Black are soaring through an aviation operations course exposing them to a variety of related careers.

Maria and Tyler are among 17 juniors and seniors currently enrolled in the school’s aviation operations course. Both entered the class with a general interest in aviation but no specific career objective in mind. That was before:

  • they talked with Blue Angels pilots at the Crossroads Airshow
  • a Republic Airlines pilot described his work in detail for them
  • they experienced a LIFT Academy flight simulator
  • they visited the Indianapolis International Airport control tower
  • Maria and other female students heard personal stories of various careers during Women in Aviation Day

All of these experiences are part of the aviation course held at Mt. Vernon High School. 

Now, after one semester of the class, Maria and Tyler have their sights set on careers as pilots.

Maria shared, “This sealed that this is definitely what I want to be in. It has taught me that I don’t want to be an air traffic controller or anything that’s not actually in the air.”

And even though the course does not actually put students into flight situations, its introduction to such key concepts as aerodynamics, weight and balance, physiology, cross-country flight planning, weather, and decision-making skills has led Tyler to a similar conclusion. 

“We’ve learned all the different (career) routes you can take. She (aviation instructor Katelin Nading) has exposed us to all of them,” Tyler said. “Without this class, I’d have no idea what to do.” While he previously had considered flight engineering, Tyler is now drawn to pilot training, even applying to the Air Force Academy for a possible pathway in military aviation.

Herein lies the value of Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses: helping students evaluate career options, providing certification opportunities and several dual credits through Ivy Tech, while also preparing them for success in the field they ultimately select.

While Maria and Tyler are focusing on careers in the cockpit, other aviation students - drawn from three nearby high schools in addition to Mt. Vernon - may well pursue training as flight engineers, air transportation workers, airfield management personnel, air traffic controllers, or flight operation managers.


Employees in all these specialized fields are in demand, in keeping with Indiana’s Next Level Programs of Study objective to develop a skilled and ready workforce for available jobs among high school students.

Students across Hancock County will have an even greater opportunity to prepare for CTE careers when HC3 (Hancock County Career Center) opens at the Amplify Hancock Innovation Center in the fall of 2026. This high school career center will consolidate aviation and numerous other career pathways into a centralized location engineered built specifically for CTE classes. The HC3 will serve all four of the county’s public school districts and will be led by Stan Wilkison, who is currently the assistant principal at Mt. Vernon High School.

In the meantime, students are making the most of the growing menu of CTE offerings at Mt. Vernon High School, including the opportunity to earn dual credit through courses - such as aviation - offered in cooperation with Ivy Tech. All available courses for Hancock County high school students can be found at

While aviation instructor Nading expects the aviation program to grow and expand, she also says it already achieves the goal of generating student interest and knowledge for future careers. “It's amazing,” she said, “to see students who really did not think this career track would be realistic for them at the beginning of the year growing into confident, enthusiastic budding aviators.”