Q&A with Melissa Spalding
Occupation: Director of Education, Museum of Aviation
Q: There’s a specific educational aspect of the Museum of Aviation in addition to all the remarkable aircraft and displays. Can you give an overview?
A: There’s always education, particularly STEM education, going on. In a nutshell, we have programs for students aged 4 though adult. There are three main programs here: Starbase Robins, the Georgia Youth Science and Technology Centers (GYSTC) and the National STEM Academy which I work for and is part of the museum, paid for by the Museum of Aviation Foundation.
Q: What is STEM?
A: Science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We focus on STEM subjects and careers they lead to. We’re geared toward education for workforce development to help students learn and connect with fulfilling careers.
Q: What’s the National STEM Academy, the program you oversee?
A: We serve visitors from all over the world who come to the museum but naturally we primarily serve students — and teachers — from Georgia and the Southeast. For instance, we host field trips from all over, from Atlanta, Albany, Savannah, out of state, all over. When students go on a field trip they want to get out of town, right? We’re a great spot for it. And field trips here count as instructional time, not just a fun excursion.
Q: Can you briefly outline your offerings?
A: Our main activities include history programs and guided museum tours as well as our ACE STEM Field Trips for pre-k through fifth grade students. They include grade-specific, hands-on activities. We have the Mission Quest Flight Simulation Center for sixth grade through adult where participants plan and fly simulated missions in our F-15, B-1 and C-17 simulators. Pretty exciting. We do special events and workshops, things like Young Astronauts Days, Nights at the Museum, STEM labs and other things like astronomy days.
Q: You mentioned teachers, what’s here for them?
A: Our STEM Training Academy for Teachers, which is really important. We typically have at least one teacher Saturday a month providing training, classroom tools and opportunities for credit toward their regular professional development re-certification. We cover a lot but a really interesting thing is we’re a NASA Regional Resource Center. We can offer NASA materials and train and certify teachers to check out NASA’s moon rocks. They can’t without the special training and certification.
Q: School's out. Does that mean the education department shuts down or gets busy?
A: Busy! Summer camps! We have 25 camps open to students this summer.
Q: Are they well attended?
A: We have 580 students enrolled and most of the camps are filled. We have several engineering camps, invention camps, classes about geology, website design and aeronautical science to name a few. Camps and availability and other program information is on the Museum of Aviation website at www.museumofaviation.org.
A great thing about the camps are our volunteers. We depend so much on volunteers. We have STEM mentors who help with activities, like one who helps kids learn to solder. They’re building drones and I don’t know how to solder so I called Robins Air Force Base and they found us an electrical engineer to teach kids how to use soldering irons. We have a great community with so many willing to help.
Q: Talk about the other two programs. How do you all fit together?
A: Each is governed differently. As I said, I oversee the National STEM Academy which is funded by the museum. All the golf tournaments and fundraisers and donations to the museum help us operate. Then there’s the GYSTC which is state-run and serves K through eighth-grade students and teachers through outreach STEM programs like Family Science Nights and the STARLAB portable planetarium.
Q: And STARBASE?
A: It’s a national Department of Defense program aimed at increasing STEM education awareness in local schools. They have an extensive program for fifth-graders who come to museum classrooms over a number of weeks for inquiry-based learning and hands-on projects plus STARBASE has an after-school STEM mentoring program. Among other things, they also hold a super region qualifier competition for the international robotics FIRST LEGO League. Though independent, we all work together to provide wonderful programs for students and teachers. It’s quite a remarkable and unique resource for students and teachers around here and far away. We all help each other with our special projects and camps. There’s a new summer program, called Legacy, and the STEM Academy and STARBASE work together splitting up age groups to do it. What’s really neat about Legacy is it’s designed to teach students about jobs right here at Robins Air Force Base and how they can learn now for a great career at the base.
Q: So it’s education but there’s impact on many levels, right?
A: Many. Considering together our programs reach over 58,000 participants a year, it really has an impact to teach and inspire individual students, classes and even the large home school population we have in Middle Georgia.
Q: Your programs can’t stay stagnant, can they?
A: We have good foundations that we adapt. We’re adding an outdoor classroom and Space and Innovation Center. In the Century of Flight Hangar, the hub of education programs, we’ve created a kid zone with hands-on activities. And here’s something nobody knows yet: Thanks to a grant, we just got an International Space Station Virtual Tour Exhibit. In a week or two people will be able to use a touch screen to move through a virtual tour of the ISS. All pretty exciting.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.