What Do STEM and iFLY Have in Common? Plenty Says CEO Matt Ryan

Constantin Macri 28/05/2023 | 13:28

Think physics class is boring? The iFLY STEM program has people rethinking everything they thought they knew about science. It inspires and educates students of all ages through a thrilling, immersive educational program that makes learning fun and memorable for everyone. More than 400,000 students and 15,000-plus organizations have participated in the program.


Participants in the iFLY STEM agenda take the science, technology, engineering, and math curriculum and then fly in its patented vertical wind tunnel, which is a very discernable portrayal of the forces of physics. “We do a significant amount of STEM classes,” said CEO Matt Ryan. “It’s the coolest field trip.” Based on the company’s feedback, that’s a claim he can easily make.

Since the first iFLY opened in Orlando, Florida, in 1998, the company has been committed to delivering the dream of flight. And it’s accomplished that objective for the past 25 years. “But the majority of our customers are families looking for a great time or for a birthday party and schools for a STEM class,” said Ryan. 


Simplifying Science

Students of the iFLY STEM program see science principles in action inside the vertical wind tunnel during the presentation. They get to measure and record data and learn how to interpret results. 

Accredited teachers are on staff to deliver the lessons, and students earn credits for taking the two-hour course. “Since schools are going to spend money on the field trip, the fact that the kids get the appropriate credits is really helpful for them,” Ryan pointed out.

But what makes iFLY the right choice for a future field trip? Chris Barrett, president of the retail division, said, “Flight is a very complicated element of physics that we have taken and broken down into courses that are customized for elementary, middle school, and high school students.”

The students become part of the experiment and experience flight inside the vertical wind tunnel. They also learn about careers in STEM fields. The program emphasizes the real-world application of the sciences to make it relevant to students’ real life. “And hopefully, they will be inspired to chase down a future career in that arena,” said Barrett. 

The STEM program is an exciting growth opportunity for the business. However, it’s also about “delivering the dream of flight too, because that is what we are passionate about, and so are the instructors,” said Barrett. “And it allows us to give back a little to our communities.” The company has never raised the price of the STEM program to keep it economical and attainable for everyone.

The science agenda is a smart business choice for the company that prides itself on delivering an amazing family-friendly experience. According to Barrett, its marketing research shows that approximately 200 million American households want to visit one of the patented vertical wind tunnel locations. “Historically, the business has really focused on high-visibility locations. Our buildings are unique,” said Ryan. 

The interactive program is packed with science and technology, and it’s not just for school students. Groups and organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and JROTC are welcome to experience the STEM program. Any group of at least 15 people can participate.


Chicago Schools Frequent the iFLY STEM Program

iFLY Chicago has partnered with local educational institutions, including Chicago public schools, to offer affordable access to the program. There are facilities in the Lincoln Park, Rosemont, and Naperville sections of the city. 

Colleges like Purdue University and the University of Chicago have visited the three Chicago spots with high school kids. However, the STEM program is most popular with middle schools. “Sixth to eighth graders are the most common age group iFLY hosts,” said Ellie Davis, area sales manager for all Chicago locations. It also has a curriculum for kindergarten to 12th grade. “So there is a pretty big mix of grade levels,” Davis added.

The vertical wind tunnel facility works with Title 1 eligible schools — schools where 40% or more of students come from low-income families — to offer the STEM program at a discounted rate. “Many teachers say it’s the only way these kids would ever get that experience,” said Davis. “Teachers love it, and they’re really appreciative of the fairly affordable price point.”

Students get to participate in a lab activity based on their grade level. “High school students get to calculate the velocity of their body,” explained Davis. They also do a physics ball demonstration. “That is when the instructors put objects in the wind tunnel, and students get to see how the objects fly,” Davis said. “They go crazy during the demonstration. It’s a very positive experience.” What part of the program is a favorite with students? “If their teacher flies, the students freak out — they love it so much,” said Davis.

Watch this YouTube video to see why the STEM program is more appealing than listening to a lecture about science or wandering around a dusty museum. 

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