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Space is the future of science, so why don’t we teach it in school?

By Charly Castillo and Sruthi Suresh, 2021 Governor's STEM Scholars

From constructing space transportation technology to planning the eventual colonization of Mars, the American company SpaceX has been making breakthroughs in the aerospace industry through its innovation. Even though substantial progress has been made in the field in recent decades, new ideas are needed to revolutionize the future of aerospace. To drive the next generation of scientific advancements, it is paramount that students push schools to incorporate aerospace-related topics into their curriculums from the elementary to high school levels.

As students in New Jersey public schools, we have personally seen the lack of aerospace topics covered in science courses and believe that by discussing them, students will find interest in aerospace careers and make a difference in the industry.

Currently, the aerospace sciences are not universally covered in New Jersey school curriculum, which may deter the next generation of potential STEM professionals from choosing to study the subjects in college, and eventually enter the industry. To garner interest in space science careers, exposure to the subject must start at a young age, but in reality, education in these subjects is not common in American high schools.

According to Larry Krumenaker, Ph.D., an astronomer, educator, and discoverer of the Milky Way’s only microquasar, 4% of American high schoolers took an astronomy course in 2008, which is staggeringly low compared to other science subjects. Krumenaker attributes this to increased standardized testing due to the No Child Left Behind Act, as schools have begun redirecting their focus toward tested subjects like English and math. By not introducing students to the space sciences, schools are putting their students at a significant disadvantage since some may not choose to pursue fields they don’t know the basics of.

Because of their lack of aerospace education, students, regardless of their interest in aerospace concepts, miss out on non-academic skills gained in courses addressing the field, including observational and exploratory techniques. According to Abdeel Khalid, Ph.D., professor of Industrial Engineering at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, introducing subjects like aerospace engineering to students is very useful. He states: “Aerospace Engineering … is a discipline in which a lot of learning is done by hands on, experimental, operational, observational, and exploratory techniques. These techniques can be taught and enjoyed by students of all ages including middle and high school students.”

Such skills would be useful in a multitude of fields and industries, including aerospace. The National Science Teaching Association lays out guidelines for potential aerospace education programs. Non-academically, students engage in activities that are “hands-on, minds-on, and collaborative approaches to learning.” The NSTA encourages teachers to discuss the economic, historical and social perspectives of the subject, along with its scientific parts, showing the multifaceted nature of aerospace science and can strengthen a student’s performance in other classes, too.

Some may argue that the point of high school education is to develop fundamentals, while college is to begin to specialize. However, school is also meant to spark interest and develop important critical thinking skills that are transferable to other subject areas. High schools must focus on giving students the opportunity to explore different fields and find their passions so they can have a clear path toward higher education. Implementing aerospace science curriculum in New Jersey high schools would accomplish that.

The second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, hails from New Jersey. But the state’s rich history of space exploration extends beyond its most famous astronaut and includes Kathryn Dwyer Sullivan, the first American woman to do a spacewalk; Scott Kelly, the American astronaut with longest time in orbit; Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, the astronomers who discovered echoes of the Big Bang; along with countless aerospace engineers who have contributed to the study of space.

March is STEM Month in New Jersey -- a time to reflect on the contributions of New Jersey scientists, inventors, engineers, and mathematicians, but also to look toward the future generation of STEM professionals.

It is evident just how necessary aerospace courses are for a student’s education. While not every high school student who takes an aerospace course will eventually pursue it as a career, students’ interest cannot foster without the introduction of such topics at a younger age. By encouraging their schools to cover aerospace science topics, students are taking initiative that can lead to the next generation of scientific discoveries.

Charly Castillo is a junior at Weehawken High School, prospective astrophysics major and a 2021 Governor’s STEM Scholar.

Sruthi Suresh is a senior at the Middlesex County Academy of Science, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies and is working with a Rutgers University professor to improve the security of Cyber Physical Systems, such as drones.


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