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The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)

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2011 AIAA Foundation Educator Achievement Award Winners

AIAA Foundation 2011 Educator Achievement Award Winners

Every two years, the AIAA Foundation recognizes up to seven outstanding educators for their accomplishments in exciting K-12 students about math and science and preparing them to use and contribute to tomorrow's technologies.

Each recipient of the Educator Achievement Award and a guest received an expenses-paid trip to Washington, DC for the Aerospace Spotlight Awards Gala set for 11 May 2011. The visit includes a tour of Washington, DC, plus travel and lodging. It's a trip and celebration they'll never forget.

Please join AIAA in congratulating these seven incredible educators. They are responsible for inspiring their students to aim high and dream big. Their impact on their students is seen every day as those students compete successfully in various competitions and continue to study Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) at some of the best universities. We interviewed them and asked why they do what they do.....there were some very insightful answers.


Christy Gavin


Christy Gavin

When did you decide that you wanted to become an educator?
I have wanted to be an educator as long as I can remember. When I was about seven years old I set up a small classroom and spent hours making my poor little brother play school. It’s a wonder he ever recovered ? But in all seriousness, my brother did have some learning disabilities and I spent a great deal of time assisting him with school work; I really enjoyed the challenge of trying to find ways to help him understand difficult material and nothing made me happier than when he finally “got it.” I also had a couple of very special teachers who made a big difference in my life; my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Thompson, really believed in me and encouraged me to do my best. I wanted to have the opportunity to make that kind of difference in the lives of others, so when I was in 4th or 5th grade I decided to pursue a career in education.

What makes you excited about working with your students?
What a great question! The thing that makes me excited about working with my students is the opportunity to inspire and make a positive impact on their lives. Years ago I wrote a mission statement for myself as an educator? it reads “My mission as an educator is to inspire my students to seek excellence in every area of their lives and to accept nothing less than their best. I will accomplish this by being the type of person that my students will want to respect, emulate, and follow. I will demonstrate impeccable character, morals, and work ethic and will share my love of life and learning each day. I will help my students learn to dream and set goals, show them that their dreams can become a reality, and then equip them with the attitudes and skills necessary to achieve those dreams.” For me, the excitement of working with my students comes from helping them recognize their own potential and equipping them to seize every opportunity as they live a life characterized by excellence.

What are the greatest challenges that you face as you inspire your students?
By far, the greatest challenge I face as I inspire my students is “people” who don’t believe “it” is possible. The “people” and the “it” change frequently, but the theme remains the same. Whether it is students who don’t believe they can master a difficult skill, parents who aren’t convinced their children are capable of reaching the high expectations that have been set, or administrators who are worried about the risk involved with approving a hands?on experience or field trip, on almost a daily basis I hear the word “can’t.” Although this reaction probably stems from a fear of failure, it is a very detrimental attitude that can stand in the way of students reaching their full potential. Every day I ask my students to give their very best and to work harder and reach farther than they ever thought possible; if they fear failure and believe they “can’t” do it, then finding the courage to try becomes almost impossible. I am constantly asking my students, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” A huge part of my job is to believe in my students and to help them learn to believe in themselves; they don’t fully see their own potential, and it is my goal to help them develop perseverance and determination so they will stay the course when things are difficult.

Can you tell us about a time when you knew that your teaching had made a difference with a student or their family?
I don’t know that I have one specific story that stands out above others with regards to making a difference in the life of a student or his or her family. However, I’ve been teaching a pretty long time and the thing that lets me know that I have made an impact is the fact that my students don’t forget me. Since I teach 4th and 5th grade, my students are only nine and ten years old when they are in my classroom. However, I frequently receive e?mails and phone calls from students in middle school, high school, and even college; they share their dreams, disappointments, successes and failures, and most of all they want to know if I still believe that they will achieve great things. My former students have invited me to their weddings, college and high school graduations, Eagle Scout Ceremonies, and even a Broadway musical. One thing that really means a lot to me are the notes and letters I have received from students and their parents over the years; here's an excerpt from one of those letters:

“Our family is deeply grateful for the profound impact you have made on Justin over the last few years. You have pretty much single?handedly provided an exponential expansion in his awareness of what he is able to achieve. I truly believe you have altered the course of his academic career and his life in a profoundly positive way, and I can’t think of a higher compliment I could pay a teacher! As a guy who has been to school through the doctoral level, I’ve definitely been around my share of teachers. In my opinion, you are the best teacher I’ve ever encountered and our family appreciates you greatly!”

Why aerospace education?
Actually, there are a couple of reasons. The first is because aerospace topics are vitally important. In order for the United States to remain a global leader, it is imperative that bright young minds are both encouraged and equipped to pursue careers in STEM disciplines. The exploration of space coupled with continued innovation in the field of aviation captures the imagination of students and encourages them to explore the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. I am passionate about igniting my student’s curiosity, creativity, and imagination and providing innovative opportunities for them to study these fields in a challenging and realistic manner. Aerospace topics provide both the inspiration and platform for this type of discovery and learning.

The second reason is because as much as I love teaching and education, I am equally passionate about aviation and aerospace topics; I take a personal interest in these fields and have earned my commercial pilot’s license with an instrument rating, as well as a ground instructor certificate. Oftentimes, I travel to Kennedy Space Center to view shuttle launches or to Johnson Space Center to participate in the yearly Space Exploration Educator Conference; I even enjoy NASA TV, but I don’t admit that too often? Because I am personally invested and passionate about aerospace and aviation topics, it allows me to bring my excitement, motivation, current knowledge, and real world experiences to my students.

What is something that we would not know about you from reading the nomination package?
One thing you probably wouldn’t know from reading the nomination packet is that I really love the outdoors, adventure sports, and traveling. Whether it is scuba diving, hiking, climbing, backpacking, or mountain biking, I love being outdoors. I also love traveling to and exploring new places for pleasure, research, or humanitarian aid. I have had the opportunity to backpack across Europe, work with orphans in Russia, help with construction tasks in both Mexico and Guatemala, teach children in a gypsy village in Romania, and conduct scientific research in Belize and Devon Island (north of the Arctic Circle).

What is the best piece of advice you would give someone when working with students?
Don’t underestimate what students are capable of achieving. Set the bar high, believe in your students, and work really hard to help them believe in themselves as you equip them to achieve the success and excellence you expect of them.

Penny Leon Glackman


Glackman

When did you decide that you wanted to become an educator?
I think it was always part of me,’ being a ‘teacher’, but I really fell into teaching because a friend of mine needed an assistant. My own children were in pre-school, and I had the time and inclination to work with her. From there I was in a small private parochial school and then on to a public school where I have worked for 20 years. At Merion Elementary School I felt I found my true calling as I evolved into an educator who found great passion in her work.

What makes you excited about working with your students?
Watching students grow and develop into lifelong learners with an enthusiasm for learning, knowing, understanding, and imagining are all parts of what excite me about working with children.

What are the greatest challenges that you face as you inspire your students?
I think the greatest challenges in today’s world involve keeping children engaged in the learning process, keeping up with technology, and helping students to stay focused in a world filled with a wealth of stimuli including a plethora of distractions.

Can you tell us about a time when you knew that your teaching had made a difference with a student or their family?
A former student wrote an essay for his college admission application that focused on a person who had a great influence on him. As a shy and awkward fifth-grader in my class, he had an intellectual curiosity that was fueled by the learning environment provided. His boundless curiosity, clear intelligence, his imagination and enthusiasm for learning, all created a student for whom I felt I made a difference. I was incredibly touched by his essay, and became aware of the influence that not only I may have made as an educator, but of the lasting influences of so many educators. My former student is now pursuing a program in astrophysics at the University of Chicago, with his sights set on remote sensing and planetary science.

Why aerospace education?
I cannot think of another topic that excites and stimulates the imagination and desire for learning the way aerospace does for my students. The enthusiasm for learning more and more about space exploration blossoms and develops all during the year as it is threaded throughout the curriculum in my classroom. It is exciting for my students, it is exciting for their families, and it brings excitement into my teaching and keeps me enthusiastic as an educator.

What is something that we would not know about you from reading the nomination package?
I am a grandmother of two boys, 7 years old, and 7 months old. My 7 year-old is my ‘best baking buddy’, and we share a great enthusiasm for the original Star Wars Trilogy!

What is the best piece of advice you would give someone when working with students?
Find a passion of your own that you can infuse into the curriculum, and use this as a way to engage students in the learning process. The ultimate goal is to create students who are motivated to become lifelong learners and whose intellectual curiosity and imaginations are nurtured in your classroom.

Roger Kassebaum


Kassebaum

When did you decide that you wanted to become an educator?
Junior year of college.

What makes you excited about working with your students?
My students are bright, full of curiosity and eager to learn. Their desire to learn, challenges the limits of my knowledge and I end up learning more by interacting with them.

What are the greatest challenges that you face as you inspire your students?
Time. Most things of real value take time to learn and appreciate. When you get near the edge of the known, it gets more interesting, but it takes time to get there. Students are so over programmed, so over committed, that time to think deeply about an area of interest is hard to schedule into their busy lives. Working with so many students makes it difficult for me to find time to work with each one at a level that will help them reach the next level.

Can you tell us about a time when you knew that your teaching had made a difference with a student or their family?
A freshman girl walked into my class and asked me if I could get an email address for an astronaut. She wanted to email an astronaut for an English class assignment. When she was a sophomore, she was with me at Johnson Space Center working in a POC during the first docking of the shuttle with the Russian MIR space station in support of the KIDASAT program. As a junior she presented the KIDSAT program to Dan Goldin (head administrator at NASA) and Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey. Her presentation secured a million dollar funding request for continuation of the program.

Why aerospace education?
I have taught physics for my entire career. I have learned that the three topics of sports, toys, and space are highly effective and motivational to students. If you really understand the physics of something, you should be able to predict how it will react in a micro gravity environment. Aerospace is an excellent example of the ultimate integration of math, science, technology and engineering.

What is something that we would not know about you from reading the nomination package?
One of the more memorable thrills in my life has been the experience of accelerating from zero to one hundred fifty miles per hour in 2 seconds. I was catapulted off of the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy.

What is the best piece of advice you would give someone when working with students?
Don’t lecture longer than eleven minutes. (Eric Mazur …Harvard University) Provide meaningful, relevant hands-on activities whenever possible. Listen at least as much as you talk. Students are influenced more by what you do, how you act, what you value, than by what you say.

Ben McLuckie


Ben McCluckie

When did you decide that you wanted to become an educator?
For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed up projects, experiments, and explorations. I pursued this during school in my science classes, after school in my bedroom ‘laboratory’, during the summer at science camps and the weekends at the science museum. I went straight through college with the unwavering intent of becoming a scientist. But with my science degree in hand, I realized it wasn’t the subject matter itself that inspired me but rather the learning process of discovery, exploring, and problem solving. It finally dawned on me how my parents, both educators, had groomed me for a lifetime of learning. Teaching in a classroom of discovery is my natural contribution to society.

What makes you excited about working with your students?
Embarking with my students on a journey of discovery and exploratory learning stimulates me. What excites me excites them, and vise versa. At times it can be a bit chaotic and frustrating, but it is mostly thrilling and ultimately gratifying. My spouse teaches English in the classroom next to me; she shakes her head every time I glob on to a new STEM project that I have never done before – it’s certainly not the easy way to teach!

What are the greatest challenges that you face as you inspire your students?
My students have a hard time assimilating the engineering axiom, “fail early, fail often.” It seems that in most of their schooling the act of failing at something means you have done bad and are inadequate for the task. They often come to my class with a low tolerance for frustration, as if frustration simply means failure is eminent. My challenge is to get my students to believe that the greatest successes can be built upon that which is learned from failure.

Can you tell us about a time when you knew that your teaching had made a difference with a student or their family?
Recently I worked with two students who have been particularly fascinated with computer maintenance. In both cases, no one in their family had graduated from high school (much less college). One has now become a network technician at a company that provides computer support to a dozen small school districts, including Hoonah. I call him during school hours to report problems and he calls me after hours for advice and particularly difficult tech issues. He has become a role model for his 8 brothers and sisters. The other student is still a year away from graduating, but last year worked in the community servicing computers. His favorite job was building and configuring a water-cooled gaming computer for our former chief of police, and then personally tutoring the chief in evolved gaming strategies. It is incredibly rewarding for me to watch these students attain the rank of ‘expert’ even among professional adults, almost in spite of their bleak background.

Why aerospace education?
STEM education brings the engineering design process into the classroom, and as a consequence makes science and mathematics content engaging and meaningful. I could wax lyrical about how STEM education has transformed my once teacher-dominated classroom; this is something I am very passionate about.

I am always on the lookout for engaging contexts to apply STEM education. Hoonah is a small rural coastal town whose two transportation links to the outside world are by plane and boat. My aha! insight for aerospace education came to me when it was time to teach Newtons laws of motion in my physics class – 2 miles down the road was our airport with hanger and FAA certified flight mechanic. I have been teaching STEM in an aerospace context since then and have added my engineering and robotics classes to the mix. My students have flown in small planes all their life. Predictably, all things aerospace has captivated the students in my classes.

What is something that we would not know about you from reading the nomination package?
I have played violin since 4th grade, and bluegrass fiddle for the last 28 years. This last summer I followed my daughter (now in 7th grade) to music camp and took classes in jazz violin. Currently I play in a string band with friends and a string ensemble with my daughter.

What is the best piece of advice you would give someone when working with students?
The love of science and engineering content brought me into teaching, but it is the relationships with students that sustains me in the classroom. Building those relationships keeps the act of teaching meaningful and the thrill of discovery alive. I never did learn this at my school of education – either I was so wrapped up in the content I didn’t hear their words of wisdom or they were totally consumed with instructional pedagogy that they never shared this advice.

Christopher Miko


Miko

When did you decide that you wanted to become an educator?
I always knew I was going to be a teacher from an early age – I had a knack for working with kids younger than me and for teaching. I fingured I would become a teacher later in life because I wanted to pursue other professions before moving into the classroom. After changing majors 6 times in college, unable to figure out what I wanted to do for a career, I realized I would only be happy teaching.

What makes you excited about working with your students?
Passing on knowledge and teaching kids cool and amazing things that will enlighten them and help them in their lives is exciting to me. In addition, I love that moment when things “click” for a child – when all of a sudden something makes sense, and their face lights up – that may be the best part of all. I also love hearing about students going home and engaging their parents in conversation, discussing what new thing they’ve learned in my classroom.

What are the greatest challenges that you face as you inspire your students?
Time constraints are always an issue. People don’t realize how much time and energy is required to develop good curriculum, and a great teacher is always trying to develop curriculum. This is on top of the work we do in the classroom delivering curriculum – it’s almost like having two different jobs. One of my mentors from college who has been teaching at the same university for 46 years recently told me he is still constantly developing his curriculum and lectures. It’s an ongoing process that I wish there was more time in the day, because lessons and curriculum can always be improved upon.

Can you tell us about a time when you knew that your teaching had made a difference with a student or their family?
This happens regularly for most every teacher, I think. Recently though, I had parent teacher conferences with one of my current student’s family. He is a bright, quirky, unique individual who has such a glow to him, and brings great energy to class almost every day. In previous years, my encounters with him on the yard had given me the impression that he was kind of a sluggish, moody student who wasn’t a terribly joyful individual. When his parents came to the conference, I was surprised at how excited they were at his report card, which was pretty much all “B’s.” They said that this was the best report he had ever had. I was shocked because I felt that he is capable of doing even better. I went on to say that I didn’t know what had gotten into him this year, because he was such a different student from what I encountered before he came into fifth grade, and the fact that he was doing so well academically had me wondering what had changed with him. Their response was simply – it’s you Mr. Miko – you are the reason he has lit up this year, you are the reason he is doing so well in school. For a teacher, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Why aerospace education?
Because that is my passion. I love astronomy and technology, and those just happen to be the main points in aerospace education. It’s fun and the students really get into it with amazing questions they want answered. I start my year-long curriculum on astronomy, and it gets them hooked.

What is something that we would not know about you from reading the nomination package?
There is so much more than meets the eye, as I pride myself on being a renaissance man. I have many interests and skills in a diverse range of hobbies and activities which keeps me very busy. From having season tickets for the theatre, to having season passes to amusement parks, seeing live music, photography, snowboarding, writing, videography and editing, travelling, video games, Lakers basketball and Kings hockey, the list goes on and on for all the interests that I have which provides me a wide range of information and experiences I bring to the classroom. Some of my favorite times are when we have discussions in class where I share my life experiences and teach the kids about life beyond the walls of the classroom. I think they get a lot out of that.

What is the best piece of advice you would give someone when working with students?
That’s a tough question… I would say, don’t talk down to children, treat them like an adult, and they will more likely behave and respond like one. I think it’s important to have some common ground and interests with your students, so make a point to read the books they read, see the movies they see, play the video games they play etc, and go to their extra-curricular activities like athletic contests, dance performances, and music concerts. You give a little extra support for them, and they will return it ten-fold.

Carl Steven Rapp


Rapp

When did you decide that you wanted to become an educator?
I decided to become a teacher when I was in 10th grad. Why, you wonder? Joe Holbrook my biology teacher had a great influence. He opened up the world of science to me and I was hooked. I wanted to teach biology just the way he taught it. I majored in Biology when I stared college.

What makes you excited about working with your students?
The vigor of my students invigorates me! I enjoy seeing them craving to learn more. I get excited by their creativeness and get really excited when I help them reach their maximum potential in learning.

What are the greatest challenges that you face as you inspire your students?
My greatest challenge is distance. I teach all of my students online in real time. It is sometimes difficult to inspire when I am not there with my students. However, they seem to get inspired anyway. Check out a recent email from one of my students:

I have really enjoyed Astronomy class this semester. It has been one of my favorite classes and by far the most interesting. It is my first class via the internet, so of course it was very different from any other class I've ever had. My favorite things about the class were using the telescopes that were given to us at orientation, SLOOH, MicroObservatory, and the Starry Night program. They are all very informative and fun to work with. My favorite lab reports were those that used Starry Night, and I feel like I learned the most from those as opposed to the ones with internet links. I loved talking about and looking at nebulas because they are really pretty. I also enjoyed the topic of black holes and supernovae. This class changed the way I look at the sky at night, and I am really looking forward to the field trip to Green Bank!

Can you tell us about a time when you knew that your teaching had made a difference with a student or their family?
There are many such times, but here is one of the most recent ones that happened this semester. I have one young lady in my astronomy class that has decided go into aerospace engineering. She is hooked on science. I wrote her letter of recommendation to go the University of Virginia to get into their engineering program. I have gotten emails from Magen and her family expressing their appreciation for my support and for guiding Magen into an engineering field.

Why aerospace education?
Aerospace education is mentally stimulating, interesting, and inspires students to achieve.

What is something that we would not know about you from reading the nomination package?
I have just recently published a book entitled “A Photographic Excursion Across America.”

What is the best piece of advice you would give someone when working with students?
Be flexible but strict.

Jill Gugisberg Wall


Wall

When did you decide that you wanted to become an educator?
My mom was an English and PE teacher, and my dad was a junior high school principal for 33 years, so I had always thought of elementary education as a career choice. I saw the impact my dad had on so many students and heard stories at the dinner table of how the students impacted his life in such a rich way. My senior year of high school I took classes in the morning and spent my afternoons volunteering in a second and third grade classroom at the elementary school down the street. It just clicked for me then-getting to know each child in the classroom was so exciting. It wasn’t until my third year of college, that I became really enthusiastic about teaching science at the elementary level. I saw how hands-on science really got kids excited about learning and that science was a subject where you could easily integrate other curriculum areas.

What makes you excited about working with your students?
I love helping students make discoveries about themselves-how they can meet adversity head on and succeed, how not to give up through difficult challenges, but to keep giving education their best effort. I like getting to know students as individuals and to figure out what makes each of them a unique learner. Assisting students and their families to look ahead and envision their future motivates me to keep reaching out to find new partners and resources for our students. And the things they teach me-always unexpected and sometimes surprising-remind me that being a teacher means you have the honor of being a life-long learner.

What are the greatest challenges that you face as you inspire your students?
One of the greatest challenges I believe I face as an educator is the overwhelming emphasis on standardized tests as the measure of student and school success. Farnsworth Aerospace is a school with a very diverse student population. A majority of the students live in poverty. There are so many other additional measures, both qualitative and quantitative, that can assess student growth. I think you need to think outside the box, that we can meet standards through a variety of ways, including using aerospace curriculum. Building a community of students, teachers, staff and partners that really care about educating students as our biggest resource for the future-that is the key.

Can you tell us about a time when you knew that your teaching had made a difference with a student or their family?
A few years ago, I had a former student return to see me-she was a sophomore in high school. For a summer class she had the chance to take an aviation course and had the opportunity to fly a plane. She said she never would have selected an aerospace class without being encouraged at Farnsworth. She wanted to continue working very hard in high school, with the dream of not only being the first person in her family to attend and graduate from college, but also to become an Air Force pilot. I have also heard from multiple students that they want to be the first Hmong astronaut and that dream has been echoed by families, staff and partners of Farnsworth Aerospace. Hearing stories from students that we have made a real difference in helping them realize their dreams-that’s really one of the best parts of my job.

Why aerospace education?
Aerospace education motivates students. It is a subject that gets kids excited about learning, it can be integrated into so many other areas – math, science, engineering, writing, reading-to name a few. Studying flight and space really touch a kid’s imagination and sparks creativity and problem solving skills. The aerospace business and higher education community is so willing to step in to assist and support the school. Aerospace at Farnsworth is a school-wide focus-it succeeds at all the grade levels and with entire families as well.

What is something that we would not know about you from reading the nomination package?
I have had the incredible opportunity to attend two shuttle launches. Even to this day, I cannot describe being at my first launch without tears running down my face. I feel lucky to know our two St. Paul Astronauts-Digger Carey and Heidi Stefanyshyn-Piper. I am blessed to work with an incredible team of dedicated and caring staff that put their heart and soul into the success of Farnsworth Aerospace. I love to travel and see the world and study other places and cultures as well as just sitting watching sunsets at a cabin in northern Minnesota.

What is the best piece of advice you would give someone when working with students?
Be yourself. Listen. Challenge yourself. Work with your colleagues, and learn from them as well as students. Be open to change. Be willing to take risks.