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New STEM Education Heights: Aerospace & Innovation Academy After- School Program in S.Florida

If you know me as a teacher at all, you know I never planned to be in space. I grew up during the Shuttle program but never saw a live launch. I was excited by gazing up at the night sky, but only to talk to the stars and moon, never to imagine being among them. I am the most unlikely STEM teacher and advocate you have ever seen.

All that changed when my students started-- and continued-- to build CubeSats.

I started Aerospace Public Policy Institute (APPI) as a way to provide my students and I some access to some of the governmental agencies for which they needed to build their own networks. I was encouraged by my educational partner to start a business-- another goal I had never set for myself. But learning the entrepreneurial aspects that are available to everyone, regardless of their profession, opened my eyes as to the possibilities to how all teachers might change their view of their role in their own educational business.

That business is to help students find passions, explore them, and to ultimately do the real hands-on work associated with that passion. After all, we are always told, if you love what you do, you will never feel it's a "job." And over time, helping kids to communicate their passions to a variety of venues has been one of the legs of a formidable triangle in education: aerospace (or any form of science, technology, engineering, and math), communication, and entrepreneurship. The reality is, this kind of program can be applied to any content area, any passion, but for us and our students, this niche, so to speak, has led to the creation of our next big venture: The Aerospace and Innovation Academy (AIA).

This new take on after-school STEM programs comes on the heels of Covid. Being stuck inside and forced into the virtual world was not easy at first for us to digest, both as teachers and students who were used to being on the road, talking to legislative and industry leaders, to adapt to a new reality. But having a BLUE-SKY philosophy means we are not daunted by obstacles; instead, we continue to do the impossible, to keep making progress, and achieve the mission. In that time, our students continued to write proposals and scientific papers for conferences, and while we could not travel to present, we present virtually. We can see that education and entrepreneurship is changing, and change along with it, we will. We can see the opportunity that online learning holds for our students, and we are excited to move beyond the classroom walls and into our community-- where students not only from Palm Beach County or even South Florida can participate, but motivated and STEM-oriented students throughout the state, around the US and even abroad can now be a part of the Aerospace and Innovation Academy (AIA) and join us in building satellites, forming business partnerships, and getting actively involved in their own STEM future. It's beyond fun. It's real experience in aerospace science, math, engineering, team-building, communication and even business!

While we expect AIA to morph in the future, we are excited to announce the opening of the first Space related student club or team in our area and in the state of Florida. SPACE Club (Space Physics, Aerospace, and CubeSat Exploration) begins in January 2020 and will run through April. Middle and high school students in grades 6th-12th) will learn the essentials of the science and math behind aerospace. Topics like orbital mechanics, Newton's and Kepler's Laws and so much more will help our team plan and launch a High Altitude Balloon and many more STEM opportunities that will help create impressive resumes for high school and college and inspire the next generation of space enthusiasts and even aerospace engineers of the future.

We hope you or a teacher or student who loves space will join us!

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