Growing up in the flight path of Reagan National Airport in the Washington, DC, area, Shawn Newman became fascinated by the planes that flew over his house. In middle school, his favorite days were when the sun lingered into the evening and he was able to get a closer look.
“The best days were when I had time to ride my bike an hour to the airport to get a closer look at the planes taking off and landing,” said Newman, a Senior Systems Engineer who recently celebrated 28 years at GE Aviation.
A graduate of the engineering program at The University of Cincinnati, it was beneath that flight path that Newman’s passion for aviation ignited. And sharing that passion for learning and aviation has become a way of life for him. For more than 15 years he has volunteered as a mentor and tutor at Lincoln Heights Elementary, which is just one mile from GE Aviation’s headquarters and manufacturing plant, north of Cincinnati.
“I had role models when I grew up that looked like me, which I feel help get me through college and through the early days in my career, and I feel that it is important to do the same. Whether it’s focusing on math, science, or reading, these subjects are essential to problem solving and anything children decide to do in life,” said Newman.
One of Newman’s early career colleagues, Corwin Angel, a materials Engineer at GE Aviation, found his love of engineering through a LEGO playset rather than an airport. He later discovered aerospace engineering at a middle school career fair.
Both Newman and Angel’s deep interest in aerospace engineering were discovered in grade school. Now they share that same interest with the children of Lincoln Heights Elementary. And both are ardent subscribers to the adage, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Almost 50 percent of the families in Lincoln Heights are living below the poverty line, and it’s the most concentrated African American community in the state of Ohio, according to community leaders.
“I want the students to see someone like me being successful. As a Black male, it doesn’t matter where you come from or what you look like, you can do what you put your mind to,” said Angel.
“It’s not about whether or not they choose a STEM field but that they have someone who looks like them in their corner rooting for their success. I want them to know that someone besides their parents and teachers care about their success,” he said.
The gift of time, expertise, and books
Newman and Angel are among thousands of GE Aviation Volunteers who volunteer in their communities around the world. With restrictions due to COVID19, GE Volunteers got creative and shifted their projects to online experiences in 2020, logging more than 25,000 hours of volunteer work. Many of those hours were accumulated through online mentoring, tutoring and introducing students to STEM through remote programs.
Newman and Angel recently led a unique virtual experience for Lincoln Heights Elementary students. They talked about their careers and read the children’s version of the book Hidden Figures to several classes. Hidden Figures tells the story of the team of African American, female mathematicians who were instrumental in NASA’s early years of space exploration. The women, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, played key roles in helping the U.S. achieve great advancements in the space race. The book helped launch the blockbuster movie of the same name.
Students in grades 2-5 received a personal copy of the book thanks to a donation from the Aerospace Industries Association, of which GE Aviation is a member, and First Book, a nonprofit committed to equal access to quality education.
Lincoln Heights Elementary Principal, Dawn Bailey, tied the book reading event to Black History Month.
“I have a desire to instill a love of reading in our students and having others read to them excites me. The staff here is amazing. However, our students need to see and engage with folks outside of our school community,” said Bailey.
The students were energized by the session and some noted how inspiring it was. That enthusiasm reminds Angel and Newman how they felt when they discovered their passion for aviation, reinforcing why the work they do in the community is so important to the future of these children and the aviation industry.