Press Releases  |  3.5.2024

Challenger Center and AIAA Announce 2024 Trailblazing STEM Educator Awardees

Three STEM Educators and Schools Receive Cash Awards and Free STEM Programming

Washington and Reston, Va. (March 5, 2024)Challenger Center and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) announce Jenn Donais, Sarah Leonard, and Darryl Newhouse as the winners of the 2024 Trailblazing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Educator Award. Each teacher and their respective schools will be awarded $5,000. Additionally, each teacher will receive free access to Challenger Center STEM programming, a trip to Washington, D.C., to be honored at the 2024 AIAA Awards Gala, and an invitation to attend a future space launch experience.

In its third year, the award celebrates K-12 teachers who go above and beyond to inspire the next generation of explorers and innovators. The three winners come from schools across the United States and were selected from nearly 50 nominations. The nominations demonstrate the remarkable efforts teachers make every day to empower underserved and underrepresented students in STEM while using unique strategies, tools, and lessons in and out of the classroom to further energize students.

The 2024 Trailblazing STEM Educator Award recipients are (in alphabetical order by last name):

Jenn Donais, STEM Coach at Amesbury Middle School (Amesbury, Mass.)

With 15 years of education experience, Donais prepares students for STEM careers through innovative STEM curricula, immersive STEM days, and career fairs. As an international STEM trainer, she has facilitated professional development sessions in the United Arab Emirates, collaborated with schools nationwide on STEM development, and has contributed to journals and other platforms to improve STEM engagement. In collaboration with Challenger Learning Center at the Christa McAuliffe Center, Framingham State University, Donais founded the Massachusetts Teacher STEM Fair, providing students and teachers with STEM engagement opportunities. She is a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching awardee, Project Lead The Way Lead Launch Teacher, and Google Certified Coach.

Sarah Leonard, Career and Technical Education Department Lead at Redding Middle School (Middletown, Del.)

As an educator for 12 years, with Project Lead The Way certification, Leonard creates inclusive and equitable learning environments for all students. This school year, Leonard organized STEM Connection Stations for the district’s Education Showcase Night, collaborated with NASA Johnson Space Center to secure the loan of an authentic NASA model for the school, and will be participating in the Civil Air Patrol’s Educator Flight program. She serves as advisor for the National Junior Honor Society and the STEM Connect Club, and she is a member of the Association for Career and Technical Education, AIAA, and Civil Air Patrol. She has been honored with the Delaware STEM Educator Award and 2024 Delaware District 2 VFW Teacher of the Year Award.

Darryl Newhouse, Engineering, Design, Mathematics, and Robotics Teacher at Foshay Learning Center (Los Angeles, Calif.)

For more than 25 years, Newhouse has been igniting students’ passion and building excitement about STEM through robotics and technology. He established an engineering pathway for middle school and high school students, and successfully implemented an academically rigorous program using Project Lead The Way curriculum. As lead coach for the school’s FIRSTâ Robotics team, he emphasizes not only technical skills, but 21st-century skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and team building, as well as community service. Through project-based learning activities, he has made math and science more meaningful to students, preparing underrepresented and disadvantaged youth for post-secondary opportunities and STEM careers.

“We are thrilled to award Jenn, Sarah, and Darryl with the 2024 Trailblazing STEM Educator Award. Not only do these educators create equitable STEM learning environments for students of all backgrounds, but they provide opportunities for their students to experience real-life STEM careers, opening the possibilities for their futures,” said Lance Bush, President and CEO of Challenger Center. “With educators like them, we are preparing an inspired and capable STEM workforce of tomorrow.”

The U.S. aerospace and defense industry leads the world in innovation, while still facing challenges of staffing a properly skilled and qualified workforce. Crucial gaps in diversity, equity, and inclusion must be addressed – more STEM-literate graduates are needed, greater participation is needed by women and ethnic minorities, and early retirements are creating a growing knowledge gap.

“These three Trailblazing STEM Educator Award winners are remarkable educators! We believe teachers are invaluable to their communities. We are pleased to fuel the work of these great educators with extra resources to help them continue going above and beyond. They are enabling a diverse and robust STEM-literate next generation. Together, they are shaping the future of aerospace,” said Dan Dumbacher, CEO, AIAA.

The three winners will be recognized at the 2024 AIAA Awards Gala, scheduled for May 15 at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.* The evening celebrates the most influential and inspiring individuals in aerospace. Tickets are available now.

Each winner can select from Challenger Center’s suite of hands-on, simulated learning experiences based on their classes’ needs. Center Missions, delivered at Challenger Learning Centers around the globe; Virtual Missions, delivered by Challenger Learning Center Flight Directors to students in and out of the classroom; and Classroom Adventures, digital experiences delivered by teachers in their classrooms, bring classroom lessons to life through exciting Earth and space-themed journeys.

* Note: This event is an external rental presented in coordination with the Kennedy Center Campus Rentals Office and is not produced by the Kennedy Center.

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About Challenger Center

As a leader in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, Challenger Center provides hundreds of thousands of students annually with experiential education programs that engage students in hands-on learning opportunities. These programs, delivered in Challenger Learning Centers and classrooms, strengthen knowledge in STEM subjects and inspire students to pursue careers in these important fields. Challenger Center was created by the Challenger families to honor the crew of shuttle flight STS-51L. For more information about Challenger Center, please visit or connect on Instagram, Facebook, X/Twitter, and LinkedIn.

About AIAA Foundation

The AIAA Foundation inspires and supports the next generation of aerospace professionals. From classroom to career, the AIAA Foundation enables innovative K-12 and university programming, including STEM classroom grants, scholarships, conferences, and hands-on competitions. Founded in 1996, the AIAA Foundation is a nonprofit, tax-exempt educational organization connected to the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

About AIAA

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) is the world’s largest aerospace technical society. With nearly 30,000 individual members from 91 countries, and 100 corporate members, AIAA brings together industry, academia, and government to advance engineering and science in aviation, space, and defense. For more information, visit or follow AIAA on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Contact Challenger Center

Sara Espinosa, Director, Communications

Contact AIAA

Rebecca Gray, Senior Manager, Communications