Student Experience: Online with Western Aerospace Scholars

Are you a student who loves space? Is your mind constantly being blown by what NASA is doing? Are you an aspiring engineer who wants to learn more about Aerospace? Then Western Aerospace Scholars is the program for you. 

by Andrew W. '20

Western Aerospace Scholars (WAS) is a branch of the Museum of Flight’s STEM educational program. It’s an online course that students take during the winter that educates them in the field of Aerospace and helps them find their passion in space sciences, with an additional summer program once the online course is completed. In this writeup, I’ll focus on the online course component of the program. Through the online course, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about our solar system, rocket science, life on Mars and the history of the universe. The program is broken up into a series of activities that students can do on their own or partner up to do. Activities are broken into “modules,” or essentially units, that typically have a two-week completion period. These modules are divided into several sections, which include:

One of the biggest components is the reading and research opportunities that the program offers. Readings will focus mostly about the current module or unit, like the history of NASA, for instance. They have taken as little as 30 minutes and as much as two hours for me to read through, but everyone’s reading speed is different. And the best part is, you do not have to annotate! But taking notes is a good idea.

Liquid Rocket Image

There are labs in every unit that can demonstrate the phenomena of the universe using just the materials in your kitchen. Labs include attached reports that are very straightforward and easy to understand. Labs typically take no longer than an hour and have consistently been extremely fun! For example, the lab “Crater Formation” lets you try to re-create a crater impact using whatever materials you want. Or, in the Erosion on Mars lab, you test whether or not a land formation on Mars could be the result of flowing water, as seen below.

Math Assignments
WAS has a math assignment in every module that teaches participants about the applied mathematics of their current subject. For instance, the math assignment for my most recent module, “Exploring the larger solar system,” revolved around calculating the orbital speed of a meteor as it orbits around our sun. That may sound hard, but the math assignments always have a step-by-step guide that teaches students how to use the equations required to complete the calculations. A student with a good understanding of Algebra I should have no issue with completing the assignments. Additional help from teachers at school is encouraged by WAS.

Essays will revolve around the module’s main subject and will very often focus much more on a student’s creativity and thinking process rather than textual analysis. For instance, one essay was about whether humans should interfere with life on other planets, if it is found. This essay was opinion-based, as long as the student backed up their claims and beliefs with credible sources. Essays typically have a two-page minimum and the prompts are always interesting to write about.

Prompt: Should we colonize Venus?


Creative Projects
Most modules had some kind of artistic or creative component that relates to aerospace. For instance, one of the projects was designing a mission patch for an international mission to Mars. Below is my submission for that challenge.

Every module includes a quiz based on the readings, labs, math assignments and essay prompts. They are 25 questions each, multiple choice and have a 25-minute timer. Preparing for the quiz was one of the most time-consuming aspects of WAS for me, but the hard work is worth it!

Final Project
The final project for the online course is either a research project that lets students research any of the main topics of the previous modules, or a robotics/science competition held by the Northwest Earth and Space Sciences Pipeline, called the ROADS on Mars challenge. I did the ROADS challenge with other high school students at EC and Tesla STEM. More on the ROADS challenge can be found online.

When I first heard about WAS, I immediately saw it as the perfect opportunity to see if aerospace was right for me. Since middle school, I had been interested in planes, space craft, the Apollo missions and basically anything aerospace. Going into high school, I still had that interest in aerospace, but didn’t have much of an idea on how I should progress this interest. WAS gave me the opportunity to see if I was right for the aerospace field, and to see if I really enjoyed it. And it turns out, I did! I’ve passed the online course section and will receive college credit for it. WAS helped me find what I liked and didn’t like about aerospace, gave me a better idea about what I might want to major in during college and genuinely taught me a lot about aerospace. Sometimes the readings were long, and the quizzes were tedious to study for, but the overall experience was very fun and worth every minute I put in.

WAS gave me the opportunity to see if I was right for the aerospace field, and to see if I really enjoyed it.

Another student at EC who participated in WAS and is a team member of the EC ROADS challenge team, Emma S., shared her thoughts on the WAS program below:

“Overall, WAS has been an awesome experience. I have been challenged creatively and academically. At times, it was hard to balance with school as the essays were especially time-consuming, but I have no regrets. We’ve had priceless opportunities to interact with professionals and even get advice on our resumes from recruiters in STEM. Even though I don’t plan on going into aerospace, this experience has furthered my love for STEM.”

From a difficulty standpoint, I would say that the program is not difficult as long as you have a solid interest in the subjects being taught. However, if you are bored by long explanations of how ion engines work, for example, WAS might not be the best fit for you. I would say that the program isn’t very time consuming if you work efficiently, with an average of 20 minutes of work per night if you spread out the work across the typical week. It also helps to complete the module over time which occasionally goes all the way up to two weeks. Plus, the digital learning aspect of the program has helped me prepare for the digital learning days at EC due to the coronavirus outbreak.

WAS has been an amazing experience for me so far, and I can’t wait to write more about the Summer Residency program this summer. I honestly feel like WAS has strengthened my interest in the aerospace field and has helped me solidify my passion in science and engineering. Again, you can receive college credit for completing the course! For more information about WAS, check out the Museum of Flight website.



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