Space exploration

NASA scientists will help Aaron Willey become a better teacher. Willey, who earned her master’s of arts in education degree from Wake Forest in May, was one of 51 teachers awarded an Endeavor Fellowship with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The highly competitive program provides special training for teachers focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education.

Online and in-person, the teachers selected for the fellowship engage with education experts, NASA scientists and each other to carry back to the classroom a greater understanding of NASA discoveries to inspire a next generation of explorers, scientists, engineers and astronauts.

“The whole point is to make science relevant to students,” Willey said. “The program provides such a wealth of resources, a huge online learning community where other fellowship winners share lesson plans and their ideas for STEM education,” said Willey, who plans to teach high school science in the fall.

Fellowship winners will also visit Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., for two weeks of training in the summer.

Willey discovered a love for teaching while she was working as a materials engineer at Michelin North America Inc. When given the opportunity to train new engineering hires, she realized how much she liked teaching. So, she changed career tracks and enrolled in the master’s in teaching program. She said she likes focusing on the physical sciences because there is not a good representation of women in physics and chemistry.

Education professor Michelle Klosterman has been Willey’s mentor at Wake Forest.

“Dr. Klosterman has been a huge influence,” she said.  “She is the epitome of what I hope to be one day.  She truly walks the walk when it comes to education.  Not only does she teach us how to be effective teachers, but she also models current, research-based instructional methods in her own classroom at Wake Forest.”

In addition to the NASA fellowship, Willey was one of four students selected to participate in a program in Dublin, Ireland, sponsored by the National Computational Science Institute. While there, she explored online tools to help make abstract ideas more understandable to high school students.  Education Professor Leah McCoy, another mentor to Willey, suggested she apply for the program.

“The Master Teacher Fellows program is not only a gateway into teaching, but also to all kinds of other opportunities,” Willey said.

She is passionate about sharing ideas with students for what they can do with science when they graduate from high school.  “They just don’t know how many science-related careers are open to them.”

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