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Students talk to people seated at tables inside Paycom Center.
Students network with people in the aerospace industry at Aero-Student Day. (Photo by Alexis Cocchio)

Oklahoma City Thunder host second Aero-Student Day at Paycom Center

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Media Contact: Derek Parker | Senior Internal Communications Specialist | 405-744-1402 |

After hurriedly making their way from chilly buses into Paycom Center, curious high school students were met with airplanes, turbines and plenty more feats of engineering.

Tuesday featured the Oklahoma City Thunder’s second Aero-Student Day, which allowed students from around the state to engage with Oklahoma State University aerospace and aviation industry professionals.

The day started with a panel of various aerospace experts, including Dr. Kurt Rouser, an OSU associate professor for mechanical and aerospace engineering.

“Being surrounded by these individuals who can help find out what a student's interests are and tap into that is really important.” Rouser said.

“I’m looking around, you’ve got schools, government and civilian employers. Understanding there’s a breadth of ways to engage in the industry — for a student to have the opportunity to become aware of these things so early on is profound.”

After hearing from the panelists, the students were able to stroll the concourse for an up-close look at exhibitors, which displayed flight and crane simulators, model planes and dozens of experts to talk to.

Josh Stephens and Sarah Schafer, two OSU aerospace and aviation students who supervised the school’s table, were just as excited as the high school students who’ve yet to experience the field.

“Walking around and talking to Boeing, American and other Oklahoma companies within aviation has been great for me,” Stephens said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re brand new and just getting started in aviation or have been in it your whole life, there’s always something else out there for you to do. And attending things like this is the only way to do it.”

Schafer said she enjoys the industry networking Aero-Student Day offers.

“Getting to talk to different people, making new connections, getting to see people I’ve actually met before, was really cool. And you realize just how small this huge industry can be,” Schafer said.

Walking down a few sections from OSU’s booth, students could chat with Justie Golay, an OSU graduate and current first officer for American Airlines, where he operates an Airbus A320.

Golay said he believes that an Aero-Student Day for him would’ve got the ball rolling even sooner on his aviation career.

“I had no exposure to aviation,” he said of his days at Mulhall-Orlando High School. “If these programs would’ve been available, I could’ve had a head start. I just dove in headfirst at 18 years old. I would’ve been leaps and bounds ahead and I would’ve known a lot more.”

The evening Thunder game, which ended with a game-winning shot in Oklahoma City’s favor over the Portland Trail Blazers, featured even more aerospace and aviation theming. Rumble the Bison — the team’s mascot — donned an astronaut suit, the Thunder Girls dance team performed in pilots costumes and there were aerospace games throughout.

Still, the most important part of the day was OSU’s hand in creating the next generation of aerospace and aviation professionals.

“Aerospace in the state of Oklahoma is a huge hub,” Rouser said. “My motivation is getting local talent into the workforce and making a difference. And every event like this is just one more way to help that.”

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