A new partnership between SMMUSD and The Aerospace Corporation will provide teachers and students more opportunities to get hands-on, real-world experience in the fields of engineering and physics. The partnership, which was announced last week will allow teachers to participate in “externships” with the corporation, which has a research and development center in El Segundo.

Corey Eckhart, a physics and career and technical education teacher (CTE) at Samohi, participated in a pilot of these “externships” this past summer. He spent two weeks learning about the inner workings of Aerospace through working with the Aerospace Innovation Lab team on Internal Research Development projects. 

“It is easy to fall into a teaching cycle or pattern, thinking that you are teaching the right skills, but industry may have moved to a different set of desired skills for students to have, meaning it is important to update the classroom periodically,” said Eckhart. “From a student perspective, they will have more confidence in me as their teacher if they know I’ve seen things first hand, which leads to students being more engaged in the classroom because they have faith I’m leading them appropriately.” 

The partnership was brought about by SMMUSD Learning and Innovation Coordinator Devon Smith who reached out to Aerospace about collaboration opportunities, specifically professional development for CTE teachers like Eckhart.

“We’re looking to expand their [teachers] knowledge in the industry and I had a fantastic conversation with them [Aerospace] that has resulted in this budding partnership,” Smith said. 

Smith also said that they plan to bring a diverse array of professionals from Aerospace to speak in SMMUSD classrooms and host events in collaboration with the corporation to allow students to learn about potential career opportunities, particularly those from historically marginalized and underrepresented backgrounds. 

“I think when students see professionals that look like them and have opportunities through these events and guest speakers, these are all ways that we help more students find their way into these positions,” Smith said.

Aerospace’s Corporate Social Responsibility Associate Director Lianne McGinley said she sees the partnership as mutually beneficial. 

“Building strong partnerships is critical to delivering on Aerospace’s mission for ensuring the future success of our nation’s space programs,” McGinley said. “We were delighted to host SMMUSD physics teacher, Corey Eckhart, for an externship this summer. He’s gained aerospace industry experience that will expand the reach of our STEM programs and ultimately increase the diversity in STEM fields.”  

Smith said that plans are in place to allow more teachers to participate in Aerospace externships next summer and that they will be finalized sometime in the spring. 

“We’re excited about the opportunity for students to get a good glimpse into the industry and having a partner like Aerospace helps us to do that,” Smith said. 

grace@smdp.com