Aerospace students engage younger students

By Megan Bradley, Staff writer

When most people hear of aerospace they think of a daunting, extremely technical field. Students at the University are working to dissolve these presupposed thoughts and get more incoming students interested in pursuing this major.

Illini Aerospace Outreach (IAO) works to help nearby students who may have an interest in aerospace to further their knowledge and interest in science-related fields. Many students do not know that aerospace engineering encompasses both aircraft and spacecraft. The outreach programs developed by IAO work to raise interest.

Elijah Chen, IAO’s president, has been with the organization for three years. It is his job to plan and organize the outreach events that IAO does, which are mostly at local elementary and middle schools, but also at high schools.

“We have projects that teach about rocketry, wind turbines, forces on an airplane and jet engines. We are currently doing a rocket project with some students from Champaign Centennial to build a rocket that will be ready for the AIAA (The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) rocket race at the Engineering Open House,” Chen said.

Chen said that he enjoys going to the schools and seeing how the younger kids always greet the projects with enthusiasm and excitement. The students are eager to learn about aerospace and IAO is eager to share their projects.

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Elle Wroblewski, a Ph.D. candidate in aerospace, is the vice president of IAO. She devotes her time to working with the community and making sure IAO is involved in meaningful projects.

“We have a variety of portable, hands-on projects that students K-12 can build and test, and in doing so, learn something about the fundamentals of aerospace engineering,” Wroblweski said.

Other than bringing projects to schools, IAO is contacted with other requests as well.

“We are sometimes approached by other organizations to help out with their outreach opportunities, especially when they need something different. We have been contacted by some teachers as well for science fairs and small after-school programs,” Chen said.

Students who have been exposed to IAO’s various outreach projects or something similar in their own school districts have all been extremely optimistic about aerospace.

Peter Catizone, a seventh grader from Naperville, has been exposed to various programs that are similar to IAO’s. Catizone was unsure about what aerospace included before he was presented with projects and got to see things like real jet engines.

“The projects I was able to see really caught my interest  I didn’t even know what aerospace engineering was and then I saw all these projects and realized how cool it was,” Catizone said.

IAO tries its best to cater to students interested in both the aircraft and the spacecraft aspects of aerospace.

“We design airplanes, rockets, satellites, and UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) while having fun. As an organization, we try to have projects that show both sides of aerospace; however, most of our projects are air-related since we have mostly aircraft members,” Chen said.

IAO aims to attract students like Catizone into all science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) fields. Chen said his organization’s goal is to make students excited about these topics.

“It was so cool to learn about aerospace through a program that came to my school  I definitely want to look more into it for the future,” Catizone said after he attended an outreach event at his school.

The IAO recognizes the importance of getting kids involved early-on with STEM programs, which is why they mainly do outreach with younger students in elementary or middle school. IAO believes it is never too early to start exposing students and peaking their interests in really amazing projects.

Wroblewski is currently involved in a project leading an after school enrichment program at Yankee Ridge Elementary School. She explained that other than this program, which she is directly involved with, IAO has been able to form partnerships with other groups around campus to spread their message and engage more people in aerospace.

It is important to break down any stigmas around STEM fields and to encourage anyone to explore whatever might interest them in this field.

“If anyone wants to learn more about aerospace, they should come to the Engineering Open House, where all of the aerospace RSOs have something to share. Most importantly, come to IAO’s exhibit where we have real jet engines that have been used and many other small projects that will get anyone excited about what we do in aerospace engineering,” Chen said.

IAO continues to make aerospace less intimidating and a more reasonable task for students.

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