Students from each Brownsville Independent School District full-service high school got a window on the future Tuesday when Dwight Smith, executive chairman and chief visionary officer at Paragon VTOL Aerospace shared insights on the potential his company’s Vertical Take Off and Landing vehicles have to change life in Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley.

Smith said he was 7 when he started inventing the VTOL vehicles that Paragon will manufacture and put into service from a base at Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport. He talked about his company in a series of STEM career opportunity sessions at the Brownsville Event Center put on by BISD and its Career and Technical Education Department.

Speaking to the students two high schools at a time and with eighth-graders from feeder middle schools also in attendance, Smith predicted that the vehicles will be in service as air ambulances in the Valley within three to four years.

Each vehicle holds eight passengers and prototypes have already been built. They will be built from green energy renewable lightweight high-carbon steel, Smith said. The company announced in June that it will build a manufacturing hub in the city of Brownsville industrial park at SPI-Brownsville International Airport.

Paragon is developing vertical airports, microports, software and other infrastructure needed to make VTOL vehicles a viable system of transportation, Smith said, adding that helicopters are the earliest forms of such vehicles. State-of-the-art VTOL vehicles currently operate in China and Germany, he added.

On Nov. 2, Paragon and BISD signed a memorandum of understanding under which the two entities are to create “work-based learning and STEM career opportunities for 11th- and 12th-grade students to learn, through hands-on experiences, the skills needed to become certified drone pilots and be able to perform various, specific airspace tasks needed to accomplish set goals,” according to the MOU.

Smith said he envisions establishing internship and apprenticeship opportunities for BISD students as a way of locking in a future skilled workforce.

The City of Brownsville and the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corp., or GBIC, are partners in attracting Paragon to the city and in helping develop educational partnerships with BISD and Texas Southmost College.

Helen Ramirez, Brownsville assistant city manager and GBIC executive director, said Paragon was looking for a place to locate in Texas, Brownsville put in a bid, and it proved successful.

She urged the students to be open-minded about Paragon, about working for them after high school and after completing studies at TSC and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Paragon VTOL Aerospace educational program at the Brownsville Events Center. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

TSC President Jesus Roberto Rodriguez said there is no greater partnership than between education and industry. He urged the students to take advantage of dual enrollment opportunities, saying they represent the opportunity to earn college credit hours for free.

Olivia Lincoln, a student at Pace Early College High School and vice president of her school’s Skills U.S.A. chapter, said she thought Tuesday’s presentation was inspirational, especially since she plans to study aerospace engineering and astrophysics.

“It was really interesting hearing Mr. Smith’s story. He had to deal with a lot of hardships, but he seems to have come out very successful,” she said.

“It’s nice to see more opportunities coming to Brownsville as far as aerospace in general and just more opportunities for the general population. As a person who’s very passionate about space, I’m very interested to see how this might apply to space exploration,” she said.

“I believe that this will grow the aerospace industry in Brownsville, especially considering how SpaceX has already come to Brownsville,” she added. “I am looking forward to seeing Brownsville grow as a city, the aerospace industry and all aspects.”

Jaqueline Pena, also from Pace, said she thought Smith was “very genuine” and that she “liked him coming to us and giving us that opportunity for internships and apprenticeships.”

Andie Lozano-Lomeli, another Pace student, said she had heard a little about the company and knew that they did something with drones people could fly on.

“We could be an architect. We could be one of the designers. There’s a thousand job opportunities for us,” she said after hearing the presentation.

Asked what she thinks about the company, she said, “I see it becoming big. A lot of us kids are excited to see Brownsville evolve. We have SpaceX down at Boca Chica and now we have this new company.

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