Published in Midwest Flyer – June/July 2017 issue
The Aerospace Engineering Program at Tech High School in St. Cloud, Minnesota, is a unique program which goes beyond textbooks and classrooms to offer students out of this world experiences. The program was developed by former National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) employee, Dr. Matthew Keil. Dr. Keil is a technology education teacher who left the teaching profession in 2004 to work for NASA. He spent most of his 10-year NASA career training astronauts and developing business partnerships for on-orbit education flight projects at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Dr. Keil worked closely between the International Space Station, Space Shuttle, and business partners, such as Disney, Sesame Street, LEGO, Google, National Football League, National Hockey League, and NASCAR to develop Emmy Award-winning on-orbit education projects. Dr. Keil also spent time on the Zero-G microgravity aircraft testing experiments before they were sent to space. Dr. Keil and his wife, Alissa, who also worked at NASA, along with their three children, left Texas to return to Alissa’s hometown of Kimball, Minnesota, and return to the teaching profession.
Dr. Keil has been teaching Aerospace Engineering at Tech High School for 3 years. The program involves year-long and trimester-long classes in areas of aeronautics and space technology. Students are involved in inquiry-based learning and project-based curriculum. They complete units on evolution of flight, physics of flight, flight planning/navigation, materials/structures, propulsion, flight physiology, space travel, orbital mechanics, remote systems, and careers. Funding for the program was received through grants, donations, and scholarships from NASA, Oklahoma State University, NatSciTeachAssoc (NSTA), Shell, ISD 742 Local Education and Activities Foundation (LEAF), and Northland Aerospace. Part of this funding helped students design and build the Martian Simulation Lab, which is used for robotics projects.
To enhance student experience, Dr. Keil has partnered with numerous organizations to provide career pathways. Students have met and learned about programs offered from Northland Aerospace, Lake Superior College, the U.S. Navy, Army, and National Guard. Students have met with pilots, technicians, and flight controllers while touring St. Cloud Regional Airport and the National Guard hangar, including Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters. Students have also received resources on drone technology and Federal Aviation Regulations via Northland Aerospace. Each year, students travel to NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, to tour various aircraft and spacecraft, and meet with astronauts, engineers, pilots, and technicians. These beyond-textbook experiences help students understand existing pathways to a career in aerospace and aid in development of next generation pilots, technicians, and engineers.
Three current aerospace engineering students at Tech HS have accomplished their solo flight and in process of completing their private pilot certificates. Graduates of the aerospace engineering program are currently studying fields related to aerospace at Lake Superior College, the University of Minnesota, National Guard, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Army. Even though the program is in its infancy, the results are impressive.
This material is based in part upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (DUE 1501629). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.