The World's Forum for Aerospace Leadership

  • Donate
  • Press Room
  • Renew
  • View Cart
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

    Momentum Member Spotlight - June 2011

    June 2011 Momentum Member Spotlight

    AIAA Congratulates Michelle Rouch

    By: Lawrence Garrett, AIAA Web Editor, AIAA Communications

    Michelle_RouchAs many members are aware, AIAA has a keen interest in, and multiple programs aimed at, strengthening America’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) efforts throughout the nation’s K–12 classrooms. In light of this important and ongoing initiative, the Institute has selected a rather unique and inspirational member for its June 2011 Member Spotlight: Mrs. Michelle Rouch. An AIAA Senior Member, Rouch is a talented artist who draws upon her 21 years of a technical systems engineering background to portray evocative aviation and astronomical subject matter. As Rouch described herself, she’s a “hybrid: Engineer + Artist.” Her artwork includes portraits, architecture, marine, aviation, landscape, and astronomical subjects.

    Rouch earned a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, and an M.S. in Information Systems Engineering, but really considers herself a “born artist.” She is currently serving as a Systems Engineer on the Enterprise Team providing contract administration services for DCMA Raytheon Tucson Missile Operations. Her duties range from providing engineering expertise to DCMA personnel in the procedural and technical aspects of systems engineering surveillance on acquisition programs, which include programs for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Missile Defense Agency, to contributing to policies and procedures that insure effective mission accomplishment while working closely with the contractor, to developing local training that builds continuity to bridge the gaps.

    Michelle Rouch in front of her exhibit at Starr Pass Marriott Resort during Spacefest III, 2–5 June 2011

    Rouch is not only a very active member of AIAA, she is also a member of the International Association of Astronomical Artists (IAAA) and the American Society of Aviation Artists (ASAA).  Her work has been displayed at the Pentagon, Fleet Week, EAA AirVenture, Mighty 8th AF Museum, USS Hornet Museum, National Naval Aviation Museum, Planes of Fame, Learjet, Living Legends of Aviation, San Diego Air & Space Museum, Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson International Airport, SimuFlight, Kitt Peak National Observatory, University of Arizona, Raytheon, National Optical Astronomy Observatory, and Spacefest.  Coincidentally, Rouch just wrapped up her most recent art show during last weekend’s Spacefest III, which was held 2–5 June at the Starpass Marriott resort.

    Because she is committed to giving back to the community and teaching young people about aviation, she often donates her works for fundraisers, such as for the Boy Scouts of America, the Experimental Aircraft Association Young Eagles Program, the University of Arizona, the Tohono O’odham Nation, the Kiddie Hawk Air Academy, Wright Flight, the Pima Air & Space Museum, the Rotary Club of Tucson, and the American Legion, and she donates her time to support the AIAA Kids Club, conducting a Program Management and Art Project.

    Rouch attributes much of her inspiration for creating aerospace-related art to the work of her husband, Fotios Rouch, who is skilled in making one-of-a-kind resin airplane models. As Rouch explained:

    “In 2002 he was trying to convince me to make a painting of an airplane.  I had painted many portraits and at the time I was heavily involved in painting a series of Greek Orthodox architectural buildings.   My husband publishes his reviews about his hobby and he asked if I could paint an airplane for his article.  I had no idea if I was capable in painting airplanes, but mathematically, if you add a portrait and a building, you can draw an airplane. The smoothness and curvature of a face and the perspective and shading of a building allowed me to quickly grasp aviation art.   My husband helped me land my first commissioned work, published on box tops for airplane model kits. Another early work – that included my son walking at Pima Air & Space Museum – is being sold on stationary at the museum’s gift shop.  My aviation art world got serious fast.”   

    When asked what made her realize that her artwork could have such a positive impact on America’s youth, in encouraging them to consider aerospace engineering as a profession, Rouch described the combination of events as follows:

    “Volunteering is a personal choice and I believe that through artwork I can convey the importance of technology in the area of aviation and aerospace.  There was a combination of events that took place between 2003 and 2008.  I recall in 2003 when my six-year-old son started kindergarten, my motherhood instincts to teach kicked in.  During the same time, Tucson Airport Authority offered me an opportunity to exhibit my 39 pieces of work at the International Airport for their Centennial of Flight celebration.  In 2003 I designed and developed a 54-foot aviation timeline and coordinated with six elementary schools.  That mural is now on permanent display at the Tucson International Airport.  This was the catalyst that got me to work closely with kids discussing aviation history in combination with art.  Kids are creative and if you offer them the right stimuli, they will learn and grow. 

    I then attempted to broaden the scope of my project and contacted all the high schools in my area in creating an “Aviation, Aerospace, & Astronomy Art Contest.”  The project included a research paper requiring high schoolers to demonstrate knowledge in the subject as well as the economic impact and strengths and weaknesses of their selected topic.  The second part of the project included an artistic representation of their work. My success was short-lived, though, and of the 39 schools I contacted, only one signed up. Many schools could not decide whether to classify my project as being for their art class or their history class. 

    This made me realize that I needed a different approach.  The research paper requirement was omitted, aside from the one high school that contacted me.  My next attempt was to contact middle schools, elementary schools, YMCAs, Big Brother/Big Sister, churches, temples, etc.  I even placed an ad in the paper, and called several after-school programs. 

    Perseverance paid off.   In the end, when I collected all 22  paintings for a road show, one of the seniors mentioned that her parents were interested to know why she painted Kitt Peak.  She told them that she was interested in astronomy.  Another senior mentioned that he is interested in an architectural degree at the University of Arizona.  I had kept in touch with him for a couple of years and he was still pursuing the degree.  The purpose of the art project was to motivate the students in gaining knowledge of Tucson’s history in aviation, aerospace, and astronomy, and convey the importance of technology in the area of aviation and aerospace.   Art is a portal to another world.  If technology is represented with kids’ art and is on public display, our community would gain knowledge about what our city has to offer.   The road show traveled across the city, starting at Pima Air & Space Museum, visiting Kitt Peak Observatory, University of Arizona Student Union, Tucson-Pima Main Library, Court House – Juvenile Justice Hall, and then going to the Tucson International Airport. 

    During the road show of the kids’ artwork, the former Director of Education at Pima Air & Space Museum, Brian Ewenson, introduced me to Sara Falconer, AIAA Precollege Outreach Chair.  She asked if I could come up with a three-hour program for 8-9-10 year olds combining aerospace and art.  My mind was racing, and I enthusiastically said yes. 

    In 2008 I launched my first successful Program Management/Engineering Art Project.   The kids were formed into five competing teams,  presented with a set of requirements and art material, and  collaboratively designed and implemented an artistic representation of the four forces of flight.  This unique project harnessed the kids’ most resourceful talents, expressionism through art.  There is no doubt in my mind that kids armed with the right motivation and attitude, as well as working in teams, would be able to master the project.  Kids – like engineers – are very inventive and creative.  Each year my goal is to communicate technology thru art.  The AIAA Kids Club Program continues to offer an environment for innovation and inspiration to allow our future generation a chance to succeed.  I have performed four consecutive successful Program Management/Engineering Art Projects and will continue to uplift the minds of our future.”


    When asked if her unique strategy of using art to inspire today’s youth toward aerospace careers got students’ attention more effectively than other more traditional classroom methods, Rouch had a rather revealing answer:

    The school structure is rigid and stale.  Serving on the site council board at my son’s school gave me valuable insight about how schools run.  Most of the Tucson student population attends public schools.  The teachers are required for the students to meet specific standards, test them continuously against those standards, measure their performance, keep metrics, report the metrics, and move onto the next subject.  Creativity lies only within specific boxed subjects and rarely offers opportunities to explore new territory, like art.  Budget cuts also hinder schools from going on field trips, buying supplies, or doing  anything beyond measuring school standards.
    Schools struggle year after year.  As I mentioned earlier, in 2003 I coordinated with six elementary schools to paint a 54- foot mural of aviation history. Five of the six schools that I worked with were coordinated with their afterschool program in order not to disrupt the normal operations.  With today’s ongoing budget cuts, art is typically eliminated from the schools to save the core programs and maintain reasonable class sizes. 
    Art has no limits, though, and using art as my vehicle to communicate technology and aviation history allows me to connect with kids.  

    When they complete their work, there is a sense of accomplishment and instant gratification.  One frustrated child struggled in drawing an airplane during my AIAA Kids Club project to depict the four forces of flight.  She came to me and confessed that she didn’t know how to draw a plane.  I smiled back and asked if she could draw a hot dog with triangles for wings and tail. She smiled and went back to her team to finish the project. 

    My program is far from any traditional classroom method.  It is similar to a real-world team-building experience.  Each year the kids impress me and offer me hope.  The AIAA Tucson Section is made up of the most active participants in the field.  The AIAA Kids Club reaches out to the community and offers our next generation the chance to participate in the future growth of aerospace engineering.  We share a common commitment to inspire our youth to achieve their fullest potential and to have access to many programs. I offer one project within the eight-month AIAA Kids Club program and the kids’ feedback is priceless.  They enrich my life every bit as much as I contribute to theirs.” 

    Finally, when asked why she thinks AIAA’s STEM program is so critical to the future of the aerospace industry in the U.S., Rouch responded:

    “The AIAA STEM program is critical to our youth’s future whether in aerospace or in any technical field affiliated with the industry in the U.S.  It offers a unique approach at a fraction of the price of other private educational programs.  All the events are conducted by volunteers.  Our common goal is to teach kids our knowledge and eventually affect their lives in a positive way.  The majority of our job requires a great degree of math and science skills and the STEM program proactively engages with the community to inspire our kids to pursue a higher education

    AIAA congratulates Michelle Rouch for her many contributions to AIAA and for her positive impact through her art on America’s youth, undoubtedly influencing many toward meaningful and rewarding careers in aerospace engineering.  We salute her, and are honored to feature her in Momentum’s June Member Spotlight.

    Never-Give-Up-Never-Give-In-Copyright-Michelle-Rouch-2011_sv Michelle-Rouch_Painting
    A Michelle Rouch painting entitled
    "Never Give Up, Never Give In"
    – Copyright © 2011 Michelle Rouch
    A Michelle Rouch painting of the
    Tucson International Airport
    – Copyright © 2011 Michelle Rouch

    Read feature article on Michelle Rouch that appeared in the May 2011 issue of the Tucson Lifestyle Home & Garden Magazine.