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LeagueTLC Innovation Express
Exploring Issues, Innovations, and New Developments with Information Technology Professionals

The Aerospace Academy for Engineering and Teacher Education 

San Jacinto College District, TX

The Aerospace Academy for Engineering and Teacher Education, formally started in December 2000, demonstrates what can be accomplished when education, industry, and government work together to address local and national workforce needs. The shortages of engineering and other high-technology practitioners, and decreasing numbers of educators specializing in mathematics and science, threaten both the economy and security of the United States. The Aerospace Academy, an innovative, multipartner K-18 collaboration, was created to address these shortages while helping to maintain high skills in incumbent aerospace workers and math/science teachers. 

Project Goals
The development of the collaboration required a number of partners ranging from educational institutions to industry and federal organizations. The committed primary partners include: 

  • Baylor College of Medicine

  • Clear Creek Independent School District 

  • Clear Lake Area Business Community

  • Clear Lake Area Economic Development Foundation

  • NASA-Johnson Space Center

  • Pasadena Independent School District

  • Prairie View A&M University

  • San Jacinto College District

  • Space Center Houston

  • University of Houston-Clear Lake

  • University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston

The idea for the Academy originated with the Chancellor of the San Jacinto College District, the President of the University of Houston-Clear Lake, the then-Director of the Johnson Space Center, and the Superintendent of the Clear Creek Independent School District. They believed that there should be an organized focus for using the excitement of human space exploration to address related workforce shortages.

Three committees have been instrumental in the creation of the Academy. First, a Concept Committee made up of education, industry, and government representatives spent almost a year developing the concept, vision, mission, goals, and organization of the Academy with involvement of a number of persons and groups and based on detailed research. Once the concept was reviewed and approved by the Academy's Executive Oversight Board and Advisory Board, the Concept Committee, under Dr. Marie Dalton of San Jacinto College, then segued into an Implementation Committee. 

Some partners were invited to participate, while others asked to join the collaboration because they shared the same concerns and vision. From the beginning, the Academy concept included two rings of partners: (1) primary partners and (2) other groups that either access the services of the Academy (e.g., other school districts) or provide support and assistance to the Academy (e.g., other businesses or educational institutions).

The Aerospace Academy is administratively attached to San Jacinto College. While most Academy projects are grant funded or assisted by partner contributions, the Executive Vice President, Dr. Dalton, is a full-time employee of San Jacinto College. San Jacinto also assists in project development in other ways. For example, San Jacinto College operates as the fiscal agent for the Academy, and many Academy classes are provided in conjunction with the campuses (which in turn receive tuition, fees, and contact hour reimbursement). The project goals are:

1) Produce a highly educated workforce for aerospace and other high tech employers. 
2) Increase the quality and number of educators qualified to teach science, math, and technology.
3) Reduce employer labor costs and increase the number of persons in the aerospace and other technical labor pools by moving students through the educational system faster.
4) Create a "nursery" of high-tech Texans through programs enabling high school students to engage in learning relationships with the aerospace industry and in other ways.

Program Description

To accomplish these objectives, the Academy is organized under three institutes, all of which offer new services to the primary partners and community: 

COSMOS Institute 

The COSMOS (Community-Oriented Science and Mathematics Opportunities for Students) Institute serves as the high school or secondary component that prepares students to become productive members of high-tech industries. 

With funding assistance from Houston Endowment to the Aerospace Academy, Clear Creek Independent School District (CCISD) and Pasadena Independent School District (PISD) - the two largest districts serving the Johnson Space Center area - are developing four new high technology curricula: aerospace, biomedical sciences, petrochemical, and information technology. These programs include field experiences for all participating students and are team taught by CCISD and PISD teachers using video conferencing. COSMOS began its first classes in August 2002 with 120 students. As COSMOS activities are further developed, its work will reach down into more primary school grades.

Mathematics/Science Teacher Institute 

The Mathematics/Science Teacher Institute was developed to identify teacher needs, generate new concepts for improving the teaching of mathematics and science through a "think tank" model, and implement new math and science instructional approaches and strategies. 

In the first Aerospace Academy class, "Making Connections," 22 mathematics teachers from nine different school districts and community colleges throughout Texas learned firsthand how the mathematics concepts they teach are used in aerospace applications. The course was conducted with assistance from NASA-Johnson Space Center, Lockheed Martin Space Operations, Barrios Technology, and Space Center Houston. The Texas Legislature in both House and Senate sessions formally recognized the success of this innovative instructional model - and the instructors, participants, and administrators who designed and shaped it. Signed certificates were awarded and honorees were invited to a reception in the Lieutenant Governor's Conference Room in Austin in conjunction with Space Day 2001. This class is now available to over 700 middle school, high school, and community college teachers throughout Texas as part of a $600,000 APEX grant from the Texas Workforce Commission, and to teachers nationally as part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant. 

The APEX grant also provides opportunities for teachers to participate in one-month internships and one-week job shadowing in the aerospace industry with substitute pay being provided by the Houston Area Technology Advancement Center. The APEX grant also includes the creation of an online master resource directory for math teachers.

High Technology Institute 

The second institute within the Academy, the High Technology Institute, offers a variety of services and training to identify and respond to critical skills shortages in the aerospace and other high technology labor pools.

Several activities are underway through the institute, including coordination of NASA's KC-135 Student Flight Program and NASA's Community College Aerospace Scholars Program. The latter activity, being conducted under a grant from NASA-Johnson Space Center to San Jacinto College North, extends the successful high school program to include community college students. The goal of this program is to provide an aerospace-related experience for nontraditional community college students throughout Texas, including Web-based pre-work and a visit to NASA-Johnson Space Center to work in teams on a Mars-related project. The program showcases engineering and other high-technology fields by offering students the opportunity to interact with engineers and scientists at NASA-JSC.

Other significant activities underway in the Aerospace Academy are the administration of a $2.4 million High Technology Initiatives grant and participation in a $3 million National Science Foundation grant. The High Technology Initiatives grant (through the Texas Workforce Commission) provides training for 1,140 incumbent and new aerospace employees. Areas of training include information technology, design, manufacturing, and many leading-edge topics unique to the aerospace industry. Top experts from around the country teach many of these training classes.

Trainees include employees within 36 participating aerospace organizations: Aerotek, Analytical Specialties, Atlantic Science & Technology, Inc., Barrios Technology, Bastion Technology, BES Engineering, Cimarron, DDMS Technologies, Inc., Dynacs Engineering, Enterprise Advisory Services, GB Tech, Inc., Geocontrol Systems, Geologics Corporation, GHG Corp., Hamilton Sunstrand, Hernandez Engineering, Honeywell International, ICES, ILC Dover, InDyne, Lockheed Martin, MD Space Robotics Corporation, Metrica, Inc., MRI Technologies, Muniz Engineering, NASA-Johnson Space Center, Oceaneering Space Systems, Raytheon, Rothe Joint Venture, Science Applications International Corp., Spacehab, The Boeing Company, Titan Systems Corporation, United Space Alliance, Washington Group, Inc., and Wyle Laboratories.

Through the NSF grant, San Jacinto College and the Aerospace Academy are members of a national 10-college consortium focused on aerospace education and teacher training: SpaceTEC, an aerospace science Technical Education Center of Excellence. The goal of SpaceTEC is to foster interest in science, mathematics, and technology education in the United States and to provide education for the technical workforce using an alliance of representatives from business and industry, government agencies, and academic institutions. 

Project Results

As described throughout, the Aerospace Academy, though less than two years old, is having a strong immediate impact on its targeted workforce. Through its efforts, almost 2,000 current or potential aerospace professionals, high-tech workers, and educators have received or are receiving specialized education and training. With close ties to the Texas Aerospace Commission, the Texas Workforce Commission, and other agencies and groups, it has become a focus and umbrella for aerospace-related instruction, leading to additional key referrals and linkages. 

Future Project Developments 

Projects underway are yielding great success and providing opportunities for expansion and replication of Academy efforts in a variety of settings beyond the immediate area. One outstanding example is the National Science Foundation grant. A significant component in SpaceTEC is the provision of the Aerospace Academy's successful "Making Connections" class, in modular form, to teachers in participating community colleges and to more than 1,000 high schools across the country. The modules will thus enable teachers to replicate this successful work with additional teachers in their areas, and the number of students to be affected by these efforts is potentially in the thousands.

Another project being facilitated by the Academy is the creation of a multipartner, statewide network of school districts, community colleges, and universities in Texas, to help ensure a skilled workforce for space commercialization and related industries - particularly those tied to planned spaceports.

The Academy is also focusing on getting more students, especially those from underrepresented populations, into the high-tech pipeline through financial incentives, mentoring, aerospace internships, and specialized support services. Several strategic industry groups have stepped forward to help with this activity.

Lessons Learned 

The creation and progress of the Aerospace Academy has been a formative process and collective success. The following is a list of ideas, suggestions, and wisdom for collaborative development from experienced project team leaders. 

1. Be prepared to spend time developing your concept with involvement of and input from many people and groups. It might have been helpful if I had cautioned participants in the concept-building that the creative process sometimes feels messy, slow, or unfocused.

2. Have your vision and mission firmly in mind. To avoid digressions and to move forward smoothly, be aware that the tendency may be to run with every good idea presented. There were times when I had to pull myself and others back on track.

3. Identify partners and get them committed early. We were fortunate to have commitment from high-visibility, respected partners early on, making it easier to get others aboard.

4. Have adequate representations on all appropriate committees/boards: education, industry, and government. My experience has been that membership on the Executive Oversight Board and Advisory Board remain fairly stable, while that of the Implementation Committee can change as members' job responsibilities change.

5. Develop norms as early as possible to help ensure ongoing commitment. For example, because of an early decision to have the Advisory Board chaired by the Johnson Space Center director, the Academy has had continuity of leadership even though JSC now has its third director since the inception of the Academy.

6. Develop an adequate financial base - grants, partners, and foundations. It was helpful to gather partner contributions early for two reasons: (1) to build a cushion for development and (2) to gain official buy-in and recognition that costs are involved. The Academy is organized so that only the primary educational partners contribute money, while industry partners provide assistance in other ways. Because of our good luck in acquiring major grants early, these partner financial contributions have occurred only once thus far.

7. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! The combination of a new concept, large, complex institutions and organizations, and multiple players requires a tremendous amount of communication. I find every day that there is no such thing as providing too much information. 

8. Be prepared to work harder than you ever imagined. Developing a concept, building coalitions, writing grants, seeking funds, implementing objectives, and building teams require time, energy, and plain hard work, but the results are well worth the effort.


The Aerospace Academy is an effective example of how an innovative collaboration can provide both short-term and long-term improvement to community college teaching and learning, student services, workforce development, community service, continuing education, and institutional management. It also demonstrates how such partnerships can leverage limited resources to the maximum benefit of our students and employers, our institutions, and our economy.

As demonstrated by the quick accomplishments of this innovative education-industry-government partnership, our society, economy, and educational systems are hungering for collaborations that can produce profound results in addressing shortages of engineering and other high-technology practitioners and the mathematics and science teachers needed to produce that workforce. The Aerospace Academy is an outstanding example of how such collaborations might and can work-and of the far-reaching effects of local initiatives.

For more information, contact:
Marie Dalton
Executive Vice President
Aerospace Academy
San Jacinto College District
(281) 286-1221

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