Showing Chicago-Area Kids the Sky Is Not the Limit
Showing Chicago-Area Kids the Sky Is
Not the Limit
By Tad Vezner

Illinois Institute of Technology has ramped up its efforts to engage local high school and middle school students in STEM learning, with a little playful experimentation on the side.

In February 2023 AeroStar Avion Institute, a Chicago-based nonprofit that serves as an educational pipeline for underrepresented groups,  teamed up with Illinois Tech for an event titled Engineering HER Future in Space in which 40 middle school and high school students engaged in individual and team activities such as drawing planetary orbits and learning how to use design thinking to draft a rocket.

The keynote speaker, Mae Williams (CE ’99) of CKL Engineers Ltd., spoke of the importance of persistence and in securing mentors who don’t necessarily look like you. Williams said she struggled during the start of her academic career, posting a 1.5 grade-point average in her first year, but graduated with a 3.0 GPA and now runs her own company.

Tammera Holmes, AeroStar’s founder and CEO, grew up in the Chicago suburbs, “fell in love with aviation” at the age of 16, and was one of only two African-American women in Southern Illinois University’s aviation program.

“It’s an honor to partner with higher education institutions that understand that early access is the key to long-term success when it comes to STEM,” Holmes says of working with Illinois Tech, with whom she has been partnering for its AeroSTEM expos since 2017.

In October 2022, AeroStar sponsored another aviation and aerospace event in which 64 students arrived on campus to learn about the fields. Faculty members from Armour College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical, Materials, and Aerospace Engineering supplied materials and assisted in instruction.