How AFA’s STEM Education Programs Can Help Grow Chapters

May 16, 2023   |   By Janelle Stafford

Education is one of the three mission pillars of the Air & Space Forces Association. We promote and facilitate education for the next generation of leaders in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). AFA’s premier STEM education programs, CyberPatriot and StellarXplorers, have inspired thousands of American students all over the world. But for those AFA Chapters who are seeking new members and community partners on a local scale, there are creative ways to leverage AFA’s STEM education programs to build chapter engagement while pursuing our mission of Education.

Laurie Orth is the AFA Savannah Chapter President, a classically trained musician, and a music and STEAM educator. For years now, Orth has been introducing space science to eager elementary students by combining STEM and music education. She travels the country presenting her space-themed music curriculum to other elementary music educators, which uses “rocket” recorder musical instruments to expose students to SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets, reusable boosters, launch pads, and space travel. She has also written original songs, like “Elements of Orbit” and “I’m a Little Rocket” (available on her website and YouTube channel) to introduce concepts like orbital mechanics and rocket science math to K-2 students.

As a chapter leader and former CyberPatriot coach, Orth has found that the CyberPatriot and StellarXplorers programs are great opportunities for AFA to connect with STEM educators, middle-and high-school-aged students, as well as Civil Air Patrol and JROTC cadets and instructors.

The Central Oklahoma Gerrity Chapter has also used AFA’s STEM education program to build a strong statewide network and further AFA’s mission in the process. This includes its strong partnership with Oklahoma CareerTech, which has helped the Gerrity Chapter achieve a statewide reach. It did not take long for the curriculum of the CyberPatriot and StellarXplorers programs to prove their value to CareerTech’s State STEM Program Manager, Tonja Norwood.

Not only do CareerTech locations throughout Oklahoma annually provide multiple teams for CyberPatriot and StellarXplorers, but Norwood was instrumental in seeking and obtaining certification for the programs to be taught as approved curriculum in the “Oklahoma’s Promise” program. This program helps 8th- through 11th-graders earn tuition scholarships for college or technology centers. Although there are also teams and participants from public schools, scout troops, and churches, the CareerTech structure has helped to produce multiple national finalist teams to both the CyberPatriot and StellarXplorers Finals Competition over the past several years. 

Most recently, Oklahoma’s Edmond North High School JROTC OK-81 took first place in StellarXplorers IX National Finals in Houston in April. Successes like these can generate national interest in AFA’s STEM education programs, which translates into more support and involvement at the local chapter level.

In addition to CareerTech, Oklahoma’s AFA STEM Education Coalition also includes community partners such as the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission, SpacePort Oklahoma, the FAA Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, AFJROTC, Civil Air Patrol, and Tinker Air Force Base. The Gerrity Chapter will facilitate STEM City at the 2023 Tinker Air Show this summer, introducing AFA’s STEM Education programs to a new generation of students who may be the next generation of pilots, maintainers, and engineers.

Not every community has an active base, Guard, or Reserve unit, but they do all have teachers—and we all need a workforce. That’s where AFA can make a difference.