Promoting K-12 aerospace education via wind tunnels developed through an international capstone design partnership

16 May 2018

In many nations, programs to grow the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) pipeline are a priority due to the fact that advancements and innovations in STEM fields are indicative of a growing and progressive society. Within the United States (US), an aging National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Department of Defense (DoD) workforce, as well as the need to create a more diverse STEM workforce, are impetuses for accelerated efforts that focus upon STEM education and careers. Such efforts are also continuously gaining traction in South Africa; a nation dedicated to overcoming the negative education disparities that resulted from apartheid. As the result of a mutual interest in promoting STEM education and careers among Kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) students in the US and South Africa, an academic partnership was established in 2012 between the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) in Huntsville, Alabama (AL), and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) in Cape Town, South Africa. The partnership is referred to as the ALLiance for International Excellence among the future Space workforce (ALLIES). One of the primary goals of ALLIES is to design and develop STEM tools within engineering capstone design classes at UAH and CPUT. Upon completion, the STEM tools are donated to various K12 schools in the US and South Africa. The STEM tools adhere to stringent curriculum and product requirements-with safety as a top-level requirement. Another critical goal of ALLIES is the enablement of international design efforts that provide engineering students opportunities to gain invaluable experience working, interacting, and communicating with, an international partner. The objective of the present investigation is to determine the impact of the international design collaboration upon the engineering design students, and the benefits of the STEM tools upon the K-12 students. In order to specifically promote aerospace engineering, the ALLIES partnership has focused upon the design and development of wind tunnels that are donated to primary and secondary education schools. Previously designed UAH capstone design class wind tunnels have proven to spark interest in aerospace related phenomena among K-12 students and, as a result, wind tunnels quickly became the preferred STEM tool developed via the ALLIES partnership. The most recent effort focuses upon the design of a wind tunnel that can be fabricated using materials, parts, and components available in most regions of the world, such that disadvantaged schools can easily replicate one. The present paper will focus upon the ALLIES wind tunnel design process, the educational impact upon the engineering design students, as well as the recipient K-12 students.