2019 AIAA Honorees “Pay It Forward” to Inspire Next Generation of Professionals Written 17 May 2019 by Cat Hofacker

2019 Aerospace Spotlight Awards Gala

AIAA President John Langford began his opening remarks at the 2019 AIAA Aerospace Spotlight Awards Gala with a simple question: “Where were you on the afternoon and the evening of July 20, 1969?”

“That event had a lot to do with why you are here tonight,” Langford said to the packed atrium of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC, where more than 390 attendees gathered to honor this year’s AIAA premier award recipients.

The 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 was evident in this year’s celebration, from the tribute video that played before dinner to the Saturn V model rockets that served as table markers.

While the moon landing was honored for its influence on many AIAA members, it was the promise of accomplishments to come that many speakers and honorees held up as the true star of the night.

For AIAA Honorary Fellow Scott Hubbard, a former NASA Mars Program Director, the future includes deep space exploration. As a child growing up in Kentucky, Hubbard recalled “straining for a glimpse of Sputnik.” Now, he said, our sights are set far beyond low Earth orbit.

“Let us continue to press on toward Mars with humans,” he said. “Let us bring back those precious samples with a Mars sample return, examine Europa’s oceans and seek to image distant Earth. As a community, we can do this.”

Other honorees underscored the importance of educating and inspiring the next generation of aerospace professionals.

Megan Tucker, one of three recipients of this year’s AIAA Foundation Educator Achievement Awards, credited AIAA with helping her instill in her students an “aviation fascination.” Future aerospace professionals are “going to dream what we can’t imagine, and design what we can’t even dream.”

For two young professionals in attendance those words are not so much a wish as an imperative.

“It’s super exciting to be part of ushering in a new era of space,” said Aral Soykan, a freshman mechanical engineering major at George Washington University. “Everybody on the street is talking about ‘Let’s go to the moon. Let’s go to Mars.’ To be a part of that new generation that’s bringing that in is really exciting.”

Soykan and his classmate and fellow attendee, Daniel Livshen, are the chair and vice chair of George Washington’s AIAA student branch. In the coming academic year, Livshen said their student group will “give back to AIAA” by participating in events such as AIAA SciTech Forum and the Design/Build/Fly Competition.

“The generations before us that are here today, we’re going to be using what they’ve already done and building upon it and doing so much more with it,” Livshen said.

So, Langford asked gala attendees at the close of the night, where will you be on July 20, 2019?

“Hopefully you’ll be paying it forward,” he said.


2019 AIAA award winners:

  • AIAA Goddard Astronautics Award – John L. Junkins, Texas A&M University
  • AIAA Reed Aeronautics Award – Philippe R. Spalart, The Boeing Company
  • AIAA Distinguished Service Award – Klaus D. Dannenberg, AIAA (retired)
  • AIAA Public Service Award – Pamela A. Melroy, Melroy & Hollett Technology Partners and Nova Systems
  • AIAA Lawrence Sperry Award – Katya M. Casper, Sandia National Laboratories

2019 AIAA Foundation Educator Achievement Awards:

  • Charlotte Cook, Young Astronaut Specialist at Carver Magnet School in Little Rock, Arkansas, for “bringing STEM practices to our school, district, and community by utilizing AIAA and other resources that open students’ eyes to endless possibilities.”
  • Patricia Palazzolo, Gifted Education Coordinator at Upper St. Clair High School in Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania, for “encouraging students to pursue space- and STEM-related careers through hands-on projects and mentorship.”
  • Megan L. Tucker, STEAM Specialist at Hillsboro Charter Academy in Hillsboro, Virginia, for “inspiring a love of STEAM nationally for scholars and colleagues alike using aerospace education, Megan has a passionate mission for creating an ‘Aviation Fascination’!”