By Dolly Rairigh Glass

Lt. Gen. (Ret) Tom Baptiste, president and CEO of NCS, tries out Golfview Elementary's low-cost flight simulator at I/ITSEC.

Lt. Gen. (Ret) Tom Baptiste, president and CEO of NCS, tries out Golfview Elementary’s low-cost flight simulator at I/ITSEC.

One of the highlights at I/ITSEC was the National Center for Simulation (NCS) STEM Pavilion booth, which featured students from Golfview Elementary in Rockledge,Florida, showing off their aviation and aerospace program. Golfview was recognized by NCS as a national model for simulation in elementary schools, and school officials note that, to their knowledge, it is the only elementary school in the U.S. that implements a specialized curriculum in aviation and aerospace using low-cost flight simulators.

Hank Okraski, NCS board member and chairman for Education and Workforce Development, said that each day of the conference, two Golfview students manned the booth, then had the opportunity to check out the I/ITSEC floor with their chaperones.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for these students to showcase to I/ITSEC attendees their STEM projects, and to be recognized for their hard work and drive,” Okraski said. “These moments have a lasting impression on young, innovative minds and in 15 years, they’ll be the ones on the I/ITSEC floor inspiring young students like themselves. NCS is honored to play a role in making this happen.”

Early in the week, NCS president and CEO, Lt. Gen. (Ret) Tom Baptiste visited the booth, and was invited by student Kaleb Wilhousky to try out the flight simulator the students use in their classes. During the session, Wilhousky told Baptiste, a retired fighter F-16 pilot, that he was doing “pretty good,” to which Baptiste commented that Wilhousky was very knowledgeable about the program and “knew what he was talking about.”

A Golfview Elementary student participating in the NCS STEM Pavilion booth is excited to hear what Lt. Gen. (Ret) Tom Baptiste did before he retired.

A Golfview Elementary student participating in the NCS STEM Pavilion booth is excited to hear what Lt. Gen. (Ret) Tom Baptiste did before he retired.

Just as Baptiste finished flying the simulator, Golfview’s other student that day, Haydon Hill, returned to the booth. Hill’s teacher introduced him to Baptiste, asking him if he had a guess, or wanted to know what Baptiste did before he retired. When Hill learned that Baptiste was not only a former fighter pilot, but also a three-star general, the look on his face was priceless. Hill dreams of also joining the Air Force and becoming a fighter pilot, and this chance meeting made his day.

Haley Schill-Hill, Haydon’s mom, said, “Haydon is so smart, this was right up his alley! This day made amazing memories for him, and at 12, really made him think about his future.”