Kim Cortines is the Aerospace Engineering teacher at Oak Hill High School in Fayette County. She continues yearly training to provide the most up-to-date experiences and education for her students. 

Q: What do you teach at Oak Hill High School in Fayette County, and how long have you taught there? Where did you teach before teaching there?   

A: I currently teach four Aerospace Engineering courses (AE) at Oak Hill High School. These courses are Aerospace Engineering I, II, III, and IV. I started teaching mathematics at Oak Hill High School in 2012. I have previously taught Geometry, Algebra I, II and III, Trigonometry, Pre Calculus, Statistics, Integrated Math, and Math Lab.

Before teaching, I was home for 12 years raising my three children. I began teaching full time when my youngest started first grade. Prior to that, I worked at Compaq Computers and Universal Computer Systems (UCS) in Houston. I met my husband at UCS where we both assisted clients having online issues in the support department. I also owned a dance company, Amazing Grace Dance, in Houston that I taught at part time. Prior to owning the dance company, I taught competitive dance for about six years. Looking back, I have been troubleshooting, problem solving, and teaching youth in some form for a very long time.

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Q: Tell us a little bit about each individual class you teach — how long have each of the classes been taught at Oak Hill High?

A: In the fall of 2015, Oak Hill was the first high school in West Virginia to incorporate the Aerospace Engineering Advanced Careers Pathway Program into their current course offerings. The program is a four-year sequence of progressive courses that combines both college and career ready skills along with content standards from mathematics, science, literacy, career and technical education, 21st century skills, aviation, and aerospace engineering.The nationally developed aviation and aerospace engineering standards are the outcome of a collaborative effort between Southern Regional Education Board, Lockheed Martin, NASA, National Instruments, Civil Air Patrol, Airbus, Georgia Institute of Technology, Auburn University, Missile Defense Agency, Alabama Department of Education, and several other organizations. The curriculum is robust, challenging, and relevant to today and to the future.

I went to Alabama for 80 hours of intensive Aerospace Engineering STEM training during the summer prior to implementing Aerospace. In the fall, a combination of 23 students, mostly ninth grade along with a handful of tenth-graders, registered for Aerospace Engineering Course I. I taught five class periods of math and one class period of Aerospace Engineering that year.

I returned to Alabama the following summer for 80 additional hours of Aerospace Engineering STEM training. Over 30 incoming freshmen chose to begin the Aerospace Engineering program that fall. I taught an Aerospace Engineering Course I to those 30 new students and Course II to those students who had completed Course I. I also taught four class periods of dedicated math.

I again returned for additional Aerospace Engineering STEM training during the following two summers. I continued adding the progressive Aerospace Engineering courses to my schedule while removing dedicated math courses. Each new incoming class of Course I students increased in number. In total I completed 320 hours of Aerospace Engineering STEM training in order to be certified to teach Aerospace Engineering Courses I, II, III, and IV. This fall there will be near 120 students participating in the program. I will be teaching Aerospace Engineering all day. It is very exciting!

By graduation, students will have worked collaboratively to solve 33 aerospace engineering and aviation problems. Each problem involves roughly six weeks of integrated science, math, engineering, technology, literacy, design work, and business skills. Students use the NASA-developed Engineering Design Process to solve each problem. This is the same process that students who choose to pursue engineering in a college setting would follow.

Students have the opportunity to use current technology and equipment during their four years in the Aerospace Engineering program. The Aerospace Engineering curriculum incorporates design and simulation software, 3D printers, laser cutters/engravers, flight simulators, drones, circuit board work, stress and strain analysers, flight planning software, satellite orbit software, and programming software. Students work in teams, led by a project manager. All students will have multiple opportunities to lead a team during their four-year progression.

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Q: Tell us about your passions for the courses you teach — why do you enjoy them so much?

A: My passion for the course stems from working with young adults on these interesting and challenging problems. I enjoy helping the students learn new real-world skills and apply content knowledge in a way that drives them to learn even more math and science on their own.

I love gently helping kids participate in a productive struggle that eventually culminates in success, I literally watch their self-confidence build year after year.

Students rely on my guidance, knowledge, and encouragement quite heavily as ninth-graders.

By the time they are seniors, the students become my teachers and they find the niche of the program that clicks with who they are. They leave with a skill set that prepares them for both higher education or to begin employment.

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Q: Why do you think it’s important for the students to take part in these courses?

A: These courses allow students the opportunity to explore the aerospace and aviation field for four consecutive years. The course provides students time to master using new technology and to see if problem solving is something they would like to do as a career. The course also teaches students how to productively contribute to a team and about being a leader instead of a boss.

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Q: What are the students like in the classes you teach? Are they engaged in the topics?

A: I teach a variety of types of students. The male to female ratio is close to equal. Students come from upper, middle, and lower income homes. Some come from two-parent homes. Some are living with one parent or their grandparents. Some begin living on their own during the junior or senior years. Some are straight A students and some are not. Some want to go to college and some prefer to begin working after graduation.

In the program are band kids, sports kids, academic kids, kids who mountain bike or kayak, and kids who work full or part time for money for themselves or their family.

Each student is a unique individual who is interested in learning more about either aerospace, engineering, aviation, science, math, technology, or some combination of these topics. I absolutely love the diverse combination of students that this program draws and I would not have it any other way. Students are exposed often to troubleshooting and solving problems with others who are different than themselves, which is a powerful teaching and learning tool all on its own.

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Q: Do you think kids nowadays enjoy STEM-related courses more so than the typical reading, writing, etc.? Why or why not?

A: There are certain types of students who do thrive in a STEM setting that incorporates hands-on learning opportunities along with trouble shooting and problem solving. What is important to note is that to be successful in a STEM field, it is also quite important to be skilled in reading and writing. My students spend a great deal of time immersed in both reading and writing. Students in Aerospace Engineering become successful at locating reliable and valid research for their topics, at reading and pulling useful information from technical literature, and being able to build on the written documented work of others.

Once students solve their problems, they generate full-length (20 to 30 pages) engineering reports and business presentations to communicate their solutions. Students also keep an engineering notebook for all four years. This notebook is where students do thorough documentation of their solution progression. The notebook teaches students about detailing their ideas for patent purposes and how to keep an engineering notebook should they choose to follow the engineering career path.

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Q: What are you doing to provide for more growth within these classes? Do you participate in training for them? Just tell me a little bit about how that works.

A: I have completed all the training for these courses; however, I am always learning more about aerospace and aviation. I actually am a national master teacher for the program and have spent time teaching the courses to other educators in the U.S. I have taught the AE program during summers at both Auburn and Georgia Tech. We use their facilities and equipment while delivering the content to educators who are getting certified.

Besides helping students work through the curriculum, I work to enrich the class in additional ways for students. One way is by taking field trips and hosting visitors. I have taken students to visit the engineering departments at WVU and Tech. We have visited Yeager to learn about aviation careers and about running an airport. We have visited the Air Guard facility at Yeager where students learned about various aviation and engineering jobs available in the Air Guard. I have taken students to an aviation career exploration event in Virginia. It was at this event that six of Oak Hill’s AE students were offered scholarship money for their aviation essays (writing!). I have taken students to D.C. to visit the Air and Space Museum and to Ohio to visit the National Air Force Museum.

A few visitors who have come to our classroom are the West Virginia director of aviation, Nick Keller who runs Yeager, Dr. D’Antoni who is over the CTE Simulated Workplace progam in West Virginia, and graduates of the program who are studying engineering at the college level. Students present their project solutions and showcase their technical to classroom visitors. Additionally, my students did a digital presentation for the Georgia Tech Aerospace Engineering department and representatives from NASA.

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Q: What are you doing to keep these courses at Oak Hill? Do you think they’ll be there for a while?

A: I do feel that the classes will be at Oak Hill for a while. There is currently a waiting list to be in the program. To keep the classes going at Oak Hill, I make sure that students stay interested and that the material is challenging and relevant for them. The Aerospace Engineering program is part of the West Virginia Simulated Workplace program. I rely heavily on the idea promoted through Simulated Workplace that my classroom is a student-led company. We have a student-chosen business name (Oak Hill Aero), company logo and handbook.

Students help generate the policies of the classroom and lead one another to success. When we have visitors or write letters, students do the heavy work instead of me. When a trip needs planned, students do the work. When students are allowed to be extremely involved in the day-to-day events of the classroom, there is ownership. Last year our company was highlighted as a fall Company Spotlight on www.wvsimulatedworkplace.com. Additionally, WV PBS sent a camera to our classroom to create a three-minute commercial highlighting our company. The commercial ran this summer. Student success keeps the students coming back every day, which keeps the program going!

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Q: Do you feel that students who take part in these kinds of classes are more prepared for the future after high school?

A:  Yes, I do. The students who have graduated from the program are all either in college or working a job that has a good future. Many that are in college are scholarship recipients, several earning a full ride for their degree. Students have sent me texts stating that the work in their higher level classes is easier than what they did at Oak Hill. Students state that they are well prepared for the expected teamwork and public speaking taking place in their freshman year. Some have stated that they are bored in their math courses and that we covered that material when they were just tenth-graders. They can write papers and scholarship essays. They are able to hold intelligent conversations with adults. Students can plan and work within a budget. They have experience not giving up while working on problems that may take weeks to solve.

I am very proud of what these students are working on for their futures!

Email: jnelson@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @jnelsonRH 

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