The McPherson Air port is doing their part to show young people just how important a career in aviation can be.

Aviation Careers Exploration for Students, or ACES, is a program offered through the McPherson Airport and is showing students in middle school what STEM-related careers are available in this occupation.

The airport teamed up with area aviation experts to show students, teachers and interested personnel the value of aviation careers during the Youth Leaders and Educators Session on Wednesday at the airport.

Industry professionals are making an investment in young people to ensure that there will be enough qualified workers to fill available jobs. Programs like ACES are built to increase interest in aviation careers.

Lynn Bogue, tactical maintenance specialist and jet engine mechanic for the USAF said a degree may or may not be needed for those wishing to pursue a career in the aviation industry.

"You can do pretty well in this world and be happy and successful without a degree," Bogue said. "There's been a shift away from a college degree and it's becoming more of what you're good at. Those degree-happy employers are missing out on capable people."

Kevin Dawson is a 2016 graduate of the airport management program and admissions representative at K-State Polytechnic in Salina. Dawson shared his experience in college and life after college, as it can often be a tough time for many pilot graduates seeking a job.

"Starting wages are $34,000 for a pilot, that's scary. Airlines are recognizing the problem and are starting to raise the pay," Dawson added.

While job searching may be tough for anyone, Dawson said he is there to help find answers.

"To the educators, my job is to talk aviation and college in general to high school age students. I've been there, done that and I understand. I want to answer those questions," Dawson said.

As for Jerry Graf, pilot and founder of Aviation by Design and Youth Aviation Programs Association, letting kids find their creativity through this career on their own is just the cherry on top for his programs.

"I decided to give back to kids involved in aviation. If we have an opportunity to give back to kids, its our responsibility to do that. I try to let the kids have their creative thoughts take off and I've found that to be successful," Graf noted.

Over the years, Graf assisted kids in his ABD program by building models of airplanes.

"We went to Oshkosh, Wisconsin to the world's largest airshow where half a million people come through to look at over 10,000 airplanes. These kids I work with are often introverts and are often bullied, so I let them stand next to the airplane and brag on what they've done to get their social skills going," Graf said. "The funniest thing was Suzy on our team was the smartest kid and all the boys would come and ask her for help."

As his passion for aviation and helping kids find their way was clearly shown in his presentation, Graf has a dream to share with those in McPherson and surrounding areas.

"I want to build a learning center right here in McPherson as a gathering place to teach kids STEAM-related education. I want to build a fab lab and the idea is to have an airplane hang down and a classroom and a workspace with 3D printers," Graf added. "We just need the money and a team to help."

Tom Chandler, a commercial pilot, flight instructor, former manager of McPherson Airport and representative of Central Southwest Region for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, spoke on current career opportunities in the industry and how AOPA is connecting students to great futures and providing educators with STEM rich aviation education resources.

For more information, call the McPherson Airport at 620-241-0684 or visit their website at 

Contact Brooke Haas by email at or follow her on Twitter @ MacSentinel.