2019 National Aerospace Teacher of the Year

August 7, 2019   |   By Patrick Reardon

August 07, 2019

2019 National Aerospace Teacher of the Year


Michael Vargas, of Pinnacle High School, Phoenix, has been named the 2019 AFA National Teacher of the Year (TOY) presented by Rolls-Royce.

Vargas has been an educator for 19 years and is currently a 9th-grade physics teacher at Pinnacle High School. Prior to that, he spent 10 years at DoDEA International School in Belgium, SHAPE American High School, which provided a strong, global foundation for innovative STEM instructional strategies and experiential learning.

As part of AFA’s mission to encourage aerospace education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, the TOY program ensures America’s aerospace excellence by supporting teachers who carry out that mission in the classroom.

“Congratulations to Michael Vargas for being named 2019 AFA National Teacher of the Year and for his outstanding achievements in promoting STEM education. STEM is crucial for developing future technology leaders for the US Air Force and for Rolls-Royce. We salute Mr. Vargas and the other 2019 Teacher of the Year recipients,” said Adam Riddle, Executive Vice President, Business Development and Future Programs – Americas, Rolls-Royce.

As a senior in college, he helped to form Team ASPIRE (Arizona Student Program Investing Resources in Education), and he traveled the state promoting college to students in rural areas. Vargas eventually returned to Arizona and joined the Science Teachers Association which is partnered with the Arizona State University Physics Department. He built a close relationship with legislative champions and assisted in getting two major education bills passed in Arizona.

One of those bills was passed in 2016 funded 150 scholarships to address the critical shortfall of physics and chemistry teachers. The most recent bill, at the end of May, brought an additional $1.2 million to extend the scholarship program for three more years. The goal of these bills is to drive education policy toward the infusion of physics into every school as the foundational STEM driver and to double the number of physics teachers in Arizona in five years.

“Our 2019 National Teacher of the Year, Michael Vargas of Arizona, is another great STEM educator selected to be a part of AFA’s prestigious Teacher of the Year program,” said Whitten Peters, AFA Chairman of the Board. “His collaborative work with other STEM organizations and leadership garnered legislative support and funding to increase the number of certified STEM educators, quite an impressive accomplishment.”

Vargas also provides his students with unique opportunities outside of the classroom. He has initiated numerous Near Space High altitude balloon launches and many rocket launches. He also has invited the local Civil Air Patrol members to teach his students to track locations using GPS systems in emergency rescue missions. He also allows the students to apply their knowledge by participating in simulated disaster days in the desert. Vargas involves the community and other STEM organizations in teaching his students, which in turn raises more awareness about his programs.

Vargas has had a very successful career and will continue to gain more opportunities where he can share his passion for educating children in physics. He has made an amazing impact in Arizona and we hope to see that spread throughout the nation.

The second and third place winners for AFA National Teachers of the Year presented by Rolls-Royce are:

Roy Bartnick

Second Place Winner
Coolidge Elementary School
Enid, OK

Lori Nelson

Third Place Winner
Roger B Chaffee Elementary School
Huntsville, AL

The Air Force Association is grateful to its Aerospace Education Program Platinum sponsor, Rolls-Royce, for their continued sponsorship of the AFA Teacher of the Year program, allowing the program to continue honoring educational innovators in STEM. The AFA Teacher of the Year program dates back to the early 1990s when the mission to recognize classroom teachers (K-12) for their innovative and successful instructional programs originally began.