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Students in Polk County are one step closer to having an incredible STEM learning experience.

The Aerospace Center for Excellence broke ground on Project SkyLab on the SUN ‘n FUN Expo Campus at the Lakeland Linder International Airport in January. 

The project is a “STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] learning center designed to provide hands-on activities that meet state and national STEM curriculum standards,” ACE executive director Ed Young told The Lakelander. 

The bonus? Students might not even realize they’re learning. Young adds, “[Project Skylab] provides an edge by hiding math and science in cool aviation and aerospace examples.”

The 8,000-square-feet development is a natural expansion as the ACE program went from serving 9,000 Polk County students in 2017 to around 40,000 last year.

The project is slated to expand all seven of ACE’s aerospace programming: Aerospace Discovery at the Florida Air Museum, Central Florida Aerospace Academy, The Lakeland Aero Club, The Buehler Restoration and Skills Center, Summer Camp Programs and Student Outreach, James C. Ray Scholarship Program, and Crossfield Educational Building. 

The notion of Project Skylab has already proven to be a popular commodity. 

Along with more than quadrupling its attendance over the last two years, Young explained that roughly 80% of the $4.6 million expansion has already been raised thanks to fundraisers and anonymous donations from fellow Lakelanders. The early success puts the construction ahead of schedule. 

Once complete, Project SkyLab will feature new educational labs and exhibit spaces for students passionate about STEM. They will not only learn more about the industry but experience it up close and personal with a cutting-edge training lab, a resource center, and a holographic theatre and planetarium. There, students will have the chance to contribute to aircraft engineering plans. 

Young said Project SkyLab will also have a library with unique aviation manuals and texts, a convertible zone for teacher workshops, and a special space set aside for STEM activities.

The classrooms certainly won’t be the design that students are used to. Instead, they will include roll-up doors to provide enough space for massive museum exhibits and working aircraft. 

Established STEM professionals aren’t forgotten. Project SkyLab will also serve as a hub for international aerospace and engineering authorities and businesses, enhancing Lakeland’s presence in the STEM industry.

Those who donate at least $1,000 to the cause will be recognized in the building. Young added that volunteers are also more than welcome.

“We’d love to have our students help you to get real-life experience. Really, we live on partnerships. Any help is a lot of help,” says Young.

To learn more about Project SkyLab and how to donate, visit flysnf.org/project-skylab.

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