High-flying student explores the math and science needed for aviation career

Alex Livingston

Some of the most passionate minds in math and science don't sit still. Alex Livingston – a pilot in training and a high-school sophomore – is one of them.

"As soon as I started flying, I was hooked," Alex said. "The view is incredible and there's a great feeling of accomplishment."

Alex, 15, recently won the #GenSTEM contest we sponsored that encouraged students to snap a photo showing how science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects inspire them. The grand prize: a $500 gift card and an all-expense-paid trip to Dallas to meet with mathematicians and scientists at our company and explore real-world STEM career opportunities.

He also won a starring role in the latest edition of STEM Behind Cool Careers, an entertaining series of calculator activities and videos that introduce middle and high school students to unexpected STEM careers. His lesson, STEM on the Fly, explores the math and science of flight.

On the go

Alex takes the initiative to make things happen. In addition to his studies at Tech Valley High School in Albany, NY, he has maxed out the amount of solo training in powered aircraft he can take until he turns 17. Until then, he’s honing his airborne skills in unpowered gliders, where 15-year-olds are allowed to make solo flights. He also serves in the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program, an auxiliary of the U.S Air Force, and runs a side business 3-D printing model airplane parts for fellow enthusiasts.

So when he learned about our national #GenSTEM contest, he responded with an entry that highlighted his love of flying. Hundreds of students entered the contest, which asked students and teachers to submit photos showing how STEM inspires them. We teamed up with John Urschel, a former professional football player turned full-time mathematician, to select the winning entry.

For Alex, whose dream is to fly commercial jets, the next stop was Dallas, where our company is headquartered.

Aviation options

During his visit, he got a behind-the-scenes tour of the McKinney National Airport and sat in the cockpit of a flight simulator at Southwest Airlines’ training facilities. During a tour of the airline’s dispatch room, he witnessed the complexity and range of skills needed to track hundreds of flights.

"My trip to Dallas was an amazing way to see the different sides of flying and opened my eyes to the many career options that exist in the field of aviation," Alex said. "It also helped me to connect what I need to learn in math and science class today to be successful in an aviation career in the future."

He met with Capt. Adam Schindall, a veteran Southwest Airlines pilot who helped our company create STEM on the Fly. The fun, free activity puts students at the controls of an intercontinental airliner as they cruise through the math and science that explain how wings work. It helps students understand how temperature, velocity and surface area affect a plane's ability to lift off and climb through the air.

The activity is the latest in the STEM Behind Cool Careers series. Designed for the TI-Nspire™ CX and TI-84 Plus CE graphing calculators, the activities show students how a solid understanding of STEM subjects is vital for careers ranging from aviation to fashion design to ice cream flavor science.

Building a career

Alex plans to pursue a career as a commercial airline pilot, fly volunteer missing-persons search missions and keep his options open for the future.

"My visit was a unique experience that helped me learn more about how I can use science and math to build a career in aviation," Alex said. "I know there's a high demand for pilots and I know we're going to see advances in autonomous flight. I want to be part of both."