Trailblazing STEM Educator Award

AIAA and Challenger Center have launched the Trailblazing STEM Educator Award. The award will celebrate three K-12 educators who go above and beyond to inspire the next generation of explorers and innovators in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Winners of this award will receive:

  • $5,000 award to the educator
  • $5,000 award to the educator’s school or organization
  • A trip to Washington, DC, to be honored at the AIAA Awards Gala
  • Free access to Challenger Center’s STEM education programs
  • Opportunity to attend a future space launch experience

Dates to Remember

Nomination Period Opens:  1 October 2023 at 0000 hrs ET
Nomination Period Closes: 15 December 2023 at 1159 hrs ET


Contact Jake Williams, AIAA K-12 Program Manager, at

 Nomination Requirements and Information
  • Nominee must be a K-12 educator who brings real-world STEM experiences to students
  • Past recipients are ineligible for future consideration
  • All recipients must be or become an AIAA Educator Associate member
  • Preference will be given to teachers who demonstrate active use of AIAA and Challenger Center resources in their classroom
  • Self-nominations are not permitted
  • Nominator is not required to be a current AIAA member
  • Nominator may not serve as a reference
  • References are not required to be current AIAA members
  • One of two letters of endorsement must be provided by the principal of the nominee’s school or the educator's supervisor
  • Nominations must be submitted using the online database

Nomination materials must include:



Must include:

  • The nominee’s teaching experience
  • Professional activities
  • Formal and continuing education
  • Awards and publications (if any)
  • A brief summary of personal teaching philosophy


Describe in detail how the educator:

  • Connects classroom lessons to our country's current and future ambitions for space exploration and aerospace innovation.
  • Introduces young students to STEM careers that could be relevant to future space exploration or aerospace innovation.
  • Sparks students' imaginations about what will or could be the future - where humans are living and working in space.
  • Engages students and gets them excited about our country's future. 

Where applicable, all nominations should also describe how the educator:  

  • Promotes active learning and successfully encourages students to think imaginatively, critically, and independently. 
  • Demonstrates instructional techniques that are appropriate for and effective with a variety of different learning styles. 
  • Interacts enthusiastically and effectively with students beyond the classroom, using all opportunities productively to promote learning and address individual student needs. 
  • Motivates and impacts students, colleagues, and the community with their engaging and inspiring presence.
  • Achieves exemplary educational accomplishments beyond the classroom that provide models of excellence for the profession.
  • Demonstrates active use of AIAA and/or Challenger Center resources within the classroom. 


  • Two signed letters of endorsement
    • For classroom educators: one letter of endorsement must be provided by the Principal of the nominee’s school or;
    • For educators outside of the classroom setting: one letter of endorsement must be provided by the educators’ supervisor

Winners will be announced in February or March and will be honored at the AIAA Awards Gala in Washington, DC.

 2024 Trailblazing STEM Educator Award Winners
  • Jenn Donais Trailblazing Award Winner 2024

    Jenn Donais

    School: Amesbury Middle School

    Citation: With 15 years of education experience, Donais prepares students for STEM careers through innovative STEM curricula, immersive STEM days, and career fairs. As an international STEM trainer, she has facilitated professional development sessions in the United Arab Emirates, collaborated with schools nationwide on STEM development, and has contributed to journals and other platforms to improve STEM engagement. In collaboration with Challenger Learning Center at the Christa McAuliffe Center, Framingham State University, Donais founded the Massachusetts Teacher STEM Fair, providing students and teachers with STEM engagement opportunities. She is a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching awardee, Project Lead The Way Lead Launch Teacher, and Google Certified Coach.

  • Sarah Leonard  Trailblazing Award Winner 2024

    Sarah Leonard

    School: Redding Middle School

    Citation: As an educator for 12 years, with Project Lead The Way certification, Leonard creates inclusive and equitable learning environments for all students. This school year, Leonard organized STEM Connection Stations for the district’s Education Showcase Night, collaborated with NASA Johnson Space Center to secure the loan of an authentic NASA model for the school, and will be participating in the Civil Air Patrol’s Educator Flight program. She serves as advisor for the National Junior Honor Society and the STEM Connect Club, and she is a member of the Association for Career and Technical Education, AIAA, and Civil Air Patrol. She has been honored with the Delaware STEM Educator Award and 2024 Delaware District 2 VFW Teacher of the Year Award.

  • Darry Newhouse Trailblazing Award Winner 2024

    Darryl Newhouse

    School: Foshay Learning Center

    For more than 25 years, Newhouse has been igniting students’ passion and building excitement about STEM through robotics and technology. He established an engineering pathway for middle school and high school students, and successfully implemented an academically rigorous program using Project Lead The Way curriculum. As lead coach for the school’s FIRST Robotics team, he emphasizes not only technical skills, but 21st-century skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and team building, as well as community service. Through project-based learning activities, he has made math and science more meaningful to students, preparing underrepresented and disadvantaged youth for post-secondary opportunities and STEM careers.


 2023 Trailblazing STEM Educator Award Winners
  • Caroline Little Trailblazing Award Winner 2023

    Caroline Little

    School: Visitation School

    Citation: For creatively breaking down complex STEM principles into easy-to-understand lessons and connects her students to real-world examples through personal experiences. She is also a Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Teacher Innovator Institute Fellow, DiscoverE Girl Day ambassador, and an advisor for several national STEM-based educational programs.

  • Aymette Medina Trailblazing Award Winner 2023

    Aymette Medina

    School: Odyssey Academy Galveston

    Citation: For connecting students' learning experiences within the classroom to the real world through her role as a Space Foundation teacher liaison and an ambassador for both Space Explorers and SeaPerch (Robonation).

  • Taylor Whisenant Trailblazing Award Winner 2023

    Taylor Whisenant

    School: Athens Renaissance School (ARS)

    Citation: For developing a robotics program with eight FIRST® Robotics teams spanning the K-12 age groups. The program has grown to 14 teams now.


 2022 Trailblazing STEM Educator Award Winners
  • Jackie Blumer

    Jackie Blumer

    School: Greenville Jr. High School

    Citation: For embedding engineering challenges and current aerospace activities into the class curriculum, as well as serving as the AIAA St. Louis Section STEM Chair.

  • Jennifer Cheesman

    Jennifer Cheesman

    School: Zuni Hills Elementary

    Citation: For exceptional skill in taking high-level concepts and implementing them in fun and engaging ways with inclusive teaching strategies.

  • Kellie Taylor

    Kellie Taylor

    School: Hawthorne Elementary

    Citation: For sharing a passion for hands-on STEM education with students and colleagues, connecting them to space education through real-world STEM experiences.

  • Cedric Turner

    Cedric Turner

    School: Brockton High School

    Citation: For tireless work at Ashfield, South, and North Middle Schools, and Brockton High School, providing inspiration and STEM education to minority and underrepresented students.

  • Katrina Harden Williams

    Katrina Harden Williams

    School: Ames Middle School

    Citation: For enthusiastic pursuit of out-of-this-world K-12 educational experiences, and ingenious connections between real-world STEM topics, classroom education, and students' imaginations, appealing particularly to underrepresented groups.