Barrington Irving accomplished his life's dream this year. He became the first person of African descent and the youngest person to fly solo around the world. The historic flight isn't just about Irving and his dreams, but about inspiring students also to live their dreams.
Image to right: Barrington Irving is the first person of African descent and the youngest person to fly solo around the world. Credit: Juan Rivera
Irving is a 23-year-old college senior born in Jamaica and raised in inner-city Miami. At the age of 15, Irving got his first glimpse into the cockpit of a commercial jet and was hooked. He decided then and there that he wanted to be a pilot.
Throughout his teenage years, he spent his free time washing planes for private aircraft owners in exchange for half-hour flights or money for flying lessons. He whet his appetite for flying using flight simulation software. He was focused on his dream of becoming a pilot.
Irving worked hard in school and his community. He was awarded a scholarship through the Florida Memorial University/United States Air Force Flight Awareness Program. As a student at Florida Memorial University, Irving volunteered with NASA's Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy at Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Florida Memorial University is a SEMAA partner and the site of a SEMAA Aerospace Education Laboratory.
The SEMAA project engages K-12 students in exciting, hands-on activities that encompass the research and technology of NASA's missions. It is a national project designed to increase the participation and retention of historically underserved and underrepresented K-12 youth in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. The project is managed by the Educational Programs Office at NASA's Glenn Research Center and operates in 17 locations throughout 13 states and the District of Columbia.
SEMAA students in Miami; Cleveland, Ohio; and Jamaica, N.Y., participated in events surrounding Irving's flight. More than 2,500 people, including students, teachers and adults from Miami-Dade County Public Schools, attended Irving's take-off on March 23 and his return in late June at Miami's Opa-Locka Airport.
On the evening of March 23, Irving made his first stop at the Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland. SEMAA students, their families and NASA representatives attended a reception in Irving's honor at the Women in Aviation Museum at the airport.
Image to left: Barrington Irving is presented with the SEMAA Trailblazer Award during a SEMAA session in Cleveland, Ohio. Credit: NASA
While in Cleveland, Irving addressed SEMAA students, teachers and families at a special meeting at Cuyahoga Community College. Irving was presented with the NASA SEMAA Trailblazer Award -- "for unprecedented efforts in becoming the first and youngest person of African American descent to fly solo around the globe," states the inscription. It continues, "Your bold journey serves as an inspiration to SEMAA's next generation of explorers and innovators." Irving also addressed students participating in the Buckeye Regional FIRST Robotics Competition.
Irving left Cleveland on March 25 for Jamaica, N.Y. In New York, he visited with students from SEMAA and New York district schools and gave a presentation at York College for students and faculty.
Irving left the U.S. for Canada on March 30. But students' involvement didn't stop just because Irving was out of the country. Students at SEMAA locations around the U.S. followed Irving's flight online. Irving's Web site included a map tracking his location and flight status, and a journal where Irving wrote about his flight experiences and the many places he visited. His overseas pit stops included Spain, Italy, Greece, Egypt, India, Thailand and Japan.
On April 28, while in Dubai, Irving called two SEMAA Aerospace Education Laboratories and spoke with students via satellite phone. He spoke with seventh- and eighth-graders in Cleveland and with sixth- and ninth-grade students in Jamaica, N.Y.
Irving also called students at the Alpha School of Excellence for Boys, a NASA Explorer School in Youngstown, Ohio, during a stop in India. The NASA Explorer Schools project supports the incorporation of NASA content into the classroom to enhance instruction in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
While Irving was flying around the world, SEMAA students were learning about aviation. Educators used NASA Educator Resource Guides on aviation to relate the flight experience to students. Some students used a journal provided by SEMAA to track Irving's flights and pit stops.
SEMAA project administrator Richard Gilmore said the inspiring nature of Irving's flight fits SEMAA's primary goal of encouraging young people to explore STEM disciplines. "His flight is designed to inspire students to pursue careers in aviation and aerospace, which is in line with what SEMAA is designed to do -- to inspire students to pursue careers in STEM," Gilmore said.
Image to right: Barrington Irving visits with SEMAA students in Jamaica, N.Y., on the second stop of his journey. Credit: NASA
Gilmore said the flight activities showed SEMAA students a young man who grew up just like them and who is now making history. "Our students can relate to his story of coming from the inner city of Miami and not really knowing what he wanted to do," Gilmore said.
Through projects like SEMAA, NASA continues its tradition of investing in the nation's education. It is directly tied to the agency's major education goal of attracting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. To compete effectively for the minds, imaginations and career ambitions of America’s young people, NASA is focused on engaging and retaining students in education efforts that encourage their pursuit of disciplines critical to NASA's future engineering, scientific and technical missions.
Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services