Business Monday: Coffee and aviation mix well at Aspen High School event

Aspen High School freshman Janette Keller (right) preps a coffee order from the Aspen Skiers Café on Friday. The café served coffee and tea as part of the school’s first aviation career fair held Friday
Rick Carroll/The Aspen Times

Aspen High School students got down to business Friday as some of them learned the finer points of customer relations by selling coffee out of a makeshift cafe, while others talked with aviation professionals about career possibilities and opportunities.

The school’s library was the venue for the event, which included an aviation career fair and the debut of Aspen Skiers Cafe, from where students sold coffee and flavored teas they brewed using ingredients from Cafe Ink!

The cafe was the idea of teacher Emily Cackett, who with colleagues Katie Diemer and Allison Shade, lead a work-based class designed to give students hands-on experience in business, like running a coffee stand.

“It helps us learn social interaction with customers,” said freshman Janette Keller, who worked at the cafe, which will be open to teachers two days this week and other weeks moving forward.

The cafe’s revenue goes toward an account for future projects and supplies.

“They’re been learning marketing skills and business skills,” Assistant Principal Sarah Strassburger said.

The coffee industry is no doubt enormous — in the U.S. alone, consumers spent $74.2 billion on coffee in 2015, according to the National Coffee Association USA Economic Impact Report. Then there is the trillion-dollar aviation industry, a career field Aspen High School students are becoming more astute about.

The school’s aviation program last year unveiled its “Every Students Fly” program, which has been enabled by Aspen Education Foundation, Aspen Flight Academy and the BettyFlies Foundation.

Some 85 to 90 students already have gotten a chance to seize the controls of a Diamond DA40 Star aircraft, a single-engine four-seater, by flying it in the Aspen-Eagle-Riflve region under the direction of Kate Short, a pilot in her first year as the high school’s aviation director.

That has included freshmen Bennett Jones and Lilly Justice, as well as junior Oliver Semple. All three attended the aviation fair, where they spoke to professionals from the military and commercial airlines.

“It’s been like a dream for me because I’ve always want to fly,” Jones said.

Yet, the students are not just learning about the technical aspects of flying. They also are being taught about the aviation industry as a whole and its wealth of career options.

“There are helicopter pilots, there is working for American Airlines, there’s the operations, there’s the (air traffic control),” said Semple, who noted he has been a flying buff his entire life. “There are a bunch of other options you can do in aviation other than just flying a plane.”

The school’s aviation program, Jones and Justice said, has exposed them to industry concerns as well, such as the ongoing commercial pilot shortage, as evidenced by United Airlines’ announcement earlier this month that it is acquiring the flight school Westwind School of Aeronautics in Phoenix to groom new pilots.

“That’s another good thing that we learned: that because of the pilot shortage we can make a lot more money, and I think it’s another reason people are excited about this,” Justice said.

It also helps that students are gaining flying experience in a mountainous area with challenging conditions.

“The fact that they are out here in the mountains with the terrain and the weather issues, you learn much quicker,” said Marc Breuers, a private pilot who is president of the Aspen Flight Academy’s board of directors. “You’re getting really outstanding training here. Our instructors are top notch and the fact that the terrain here is challenging, you’re going to have respect. … The kids will find out when they meet contemporaries who learned to fly in flatlands, that they have an advantage.”

Breuers said the airport’s close proximity to the campus provides an opportunity to “expose kids to the aviation industry, and that’s not just flying — engineering, business, hospitality, mechanical, maintenance, even aviation law. There’s an enormous field out there in an industry that is looking for people right now.”