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Kirkwood to launch new Aviation Maintenance Technology program next fall
Federal, private funds supporting approximately $1 million renovation of aircraft hangar into classroom
CEDAR RAPIDS — A passion for aviation basically runs in Jarrett Bohlken’s family. So when the 20-year-old learned Kirkwood Community College soon would launch a program for people seeking to get a start in the industry, it immediately sparked his interest.
Bohlken, of Ely, said his mother has worked in aviation for several years and his grandfather is an aircraft mechanic. He loves to travel and said he has gone on hundreds of flights, and some nights joins his family working on airplanes.
“It's just kind of been a part of my whole life — something I've been involved with,” said Bohlken, who hopes to become an aircraft mechanic.
With approximately $1 million, Kirkwood Community College is partnering with Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids to launch a new Aviation Maintenance Technology program in fall 2023 to address a significant area of need in the workforce — providing opportunities to people looking to break into the aviation industry such as Bohlken.
Funding comes from a $800,000 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration and nearly $200,000 from local sources. Kirkwood President Lori Sundberg said private partners included Cirrus Aircraft, Collins Aerospace, Ken Brown, Elliott Aviation, Heartland Express’ Michael Gerdin, the Linn County Board of Supervisors, Duane Smith of TrueNorth Cos. and John Smith of CRST.
The money will be used to renovate an existing aircraft hangar at the airport into classroom space and a workshop and will offer access to airport facilities. Officials estimate 100 new jobs will be created as a result of this investment.
Emily Logan, Kirkwood’s dean of Industrial Technologies, the department that will house this program, said 24 students will be accepted as part of the first group, and then the program will ramp up to 48 enrollees in future years. The program takes about five semesters to complete.
Although some students may come into the program with some mechanical, technological or aviation knowledge, no previous experience is required to enroll, Logan said.
There are aviation maintenance programs across the country, but many of them have waiting lists and not enough seats to enroll interested people or fill open jobs in the industry.
Because of the job opportunities locally and across the United States, Logan said the program may draw students from around the country or even the globe.
“We don't have enough people training to be mechanics in order to fill the open and soon-to-be-open jobs in the field, which makes opening a program like this a draw not only locally for local individuals, but for individuals maybe coming to the region just for their education because it can be hard to access a program like this,” Logan said.
Eastern Iowa Airport Director Marty Lenss said creating this program seemed like a natural fit for the airport and the region considering Collins Aerospace, MidAmerican Aerospace, BAE Systems and the University of Iowa are “all doing magnificent things in that aviation sector.”
“We really can do more here in Eastern Iowa, and we're very excited about what this opportunity creating the workforce for tomorrow means,” Lenss said.
Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham said aviation activity in Iowa contributes an estimated approximately $5.4 billion to Iowa's economy and supports an estimated 47,223 jobs in Iowa with an annual payroll of $2.7 billion. The aviation market is only expected to grow in the coming decades, she said.
“I firmly believe that we must invest in our people first,” Durham said. “And that is exactly what Kirkwood, the Eastern Iowa Airport and many private partners that you've heard of today have done. This new program will open up doors of opportunity for so many years with high earning potential.”
Bohlken said he previously was enrolled in Kirkwood’s criminal justice program, but dropped out in 2021 and now works at a Walmart. As soon as this aviation program begins to accept applications, he plans to sign up for classes.
He said he wanted to stay in the area or at least in Iowa, to be close to family and friends. The only other, similar nearby program he considered is at the University of Dubuque, but he likes the affordability of Kirkwood and trusts that the institution’s programs are high-quality.
“I’m just excited that there's something local that people can actually take advantage of because before there wasn't really anything to do with aviation at all in the area when it comes to training people,” Bohlken said. “I feel like this is one of the first of its kind in this area, and so I'm excited that it's actually here and giving people opportunities to get in a good industry.”
Benjamin Coffman, of Cedar Rapids, said he was looking to become either a cargo pilot or commercial pilot, but he’s also aware there’s a lack of mechanics in the industry, so there will be demand for people to fill those jobs as well.
Like Bohlken, he has several family members in the aviation industry. He’s interested in Kirkwood’s new program but still is exploring other options, though he finds the affordability of Kirkwood appealing.
“The program is going to be really special,” Coffman said. “I think it's going to allow for a lot of students to be able to live out their dreams of becoming a mechanical pilot or whatever they want to get into.”
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