UC Irvine symposium encourages students to pursue careers in aerospace

Hundreds of high school students from Orange County and across the region visited UC Irvine on Thursday to learn about careers that could one day take them to outer space.

The Aerospace Symposium & Expo was aimed at inspiring students to choose careers in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, as part of an effort by aerospace industries to fill high-demand jobs in those fields.

Virgin Galactic's Spaceship 2 flies through the sky
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo flies through the sky. (Courtesy of MarsScientific.com)

The symposium was co-sponsored by OC Pathways, a collaborative led by the Orange County Department of Education that includes 14 school districts, local colleges and universities, and more than 50 regional businesses.

“Aerospace is going through dramatic change that’s seeing a tremendous influx of new jobs created that all of you can help fill,” Greg Washington, dean of UC Irvine’s Samueli School of Engineering, told students.

Other speakers pointed to the latest employment figures that show the bulk of current aerospace workers are between the ages of 45 and 64, meaning retirement rates are expected to jump dramatically in the next few years.

The aerospace industry will not only be at the forefront in coming decades of space exploration, but also in the battle against climate change and other environmental challenges facing our planet, speakers said.

George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said his company has hired 1,000 new employees in just the last six months.

In May, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo completed a successful atmospheric re-entry over the Mojave Desert. The craft is designed to take up to six paying passengers and two pilots on short, suborbital flights beyond the atmosphere.

SpaceShipTwo was designed, engineered and manufactured by a large team of employees who work in collaboration with each other, Whitesides said.

“We want you to earn these (STEM) degrees so you can join our team,” Whitesides told students.