This week, Boeing pledged to support the Center for Sustainable Aviation at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The gift of $300,000 over three years will be targeted to three educational efforts that will touch those in the aviation industry, including underrepresented undergraduate and graduate students, high school teachers, and experts in the existing workforce who are working toward a net-zero emissions aviation sector by 2050.
“While aviation connects and protects people and contributes greatly to global commerce, it is also responsible for approximately 2.5 percent of global carbon emissions,” said Boeing Chief Sustainability Officer Chris Raymond. “We are honored to partner with UIUC to educate and attract our future workforce on one of our industry’s biggest challenges– combating climate change to ensure a more sustainable aerospace future.”
Department of Aerospace Engineering Professor and Director of the Center for Sustainable Aviation Phillip Ansell said he has been discussing the industry’s challenges with Raymond and President and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes Stan Deal, who both earned their bachelor's degrees at Illinois. They want to attract new hires to the company who are well-versed in the nuanced thinking needed to tackle sustainable aviation challenges. They also aim to encourage Boeing’s employees to take continuing education courses so they have a broader understanding about what sustainability means from an engineering and technology perspective.
“Chris and Stan are forward thinking in how we can educate our workforce, through standing up new coursework, establishing an impactful certificate program, and growing in such a way that cultivates an inclusive environment for people to come and contribute,” Ansell said. “That’s what this pledge will help build for our current and future talent.”
Ansell added, “Some engineers who work in aviation systems haven’t been trained to think about sustainability. This partnership is intended to help in this area by advancing academic curricula relating to sustainable aviation. These developments will provide new experiences for young engineers local to campus, as well as current engineers in the workforce.”
The goal is to increase the offering of courses and programs concentrated on sustainability in aerospace but also to purposefully demonstrate that sustainability doesn’t live within a stovepipe of the traditional disciplines involved in aircraft systems. For example, an electrical engineer with technical skills in electrical power systems might want to connect their contributions to the broader scope of sustainable aviation.
Ansell said it’s important to recognize how a sustainable aviation course fits into the big picture of sustainability in aviation.
“The curriculum development component will work to connect to that core,” he said. “It will allow us to try some new educational elements that foster sustainability thinking. The intent is to enhance the curriculum experience and allow us to be experimental and innovative in how we educate future aerospace engineers.”
Boeing’s gift will also provide funding for three scholarships for students in each of the next three years from underrepresented populations—two undergraduate students and one graduate student.
“The rates of underrepresented minority students entering engineering disciplines are woefully low. That’s something we want to address by providing resources that will help attract minority students through these scholarships and fellowships,” Ansell said.
The third component of Boeing’s gift is outreach. Ansell is planning an initial think tank session bringing together engineers and experts from a variety of disciplines to listen to what they believe sustainable aviation is and can be.
“We’ll host a subsequent workshop to gather the aeronautics community across the entire value stream of aviation — there are energy suppliers recovering and refining oil or turning renewable resources into a sustainable fuel; there are fuel distributors, airframe integrators, suppliers, airlines, airports, leasing companies, and all of it has to operate within government regulations. By getting everyone in the same room, we can learn how to advance as a community rather than individual entities,” said Ansell.
The other outreach component of this effort with Boeing will be to provide training for high school teachers in sustainable aviation to broaden the education and reach.
“It will take everything and everyone coming together if the aviation industry is going to meet its net zero 2050 commitment,” said Deal. “Many in the industry are setting the foundation today for a more sustainable aviation future but it’s our future talent that will make it a reality, and we’re grateful for this opportunity to partner with UIUC on these important efforts.”