Press Releases  |  3.22.2023

Challenger Center and AIAA Announce 2023 Trailblazing STEM Educator Awardees

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

Washington and Reston, Va. (March 22, 2023) – Challenger Center and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) announce Caroline Little, Aymette Medina, and Taylor Whisenant as the winners of the 2023 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 2023 AIAA Awards Gala, and an invitation to attend a future space launch.

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 51 nominations. The nominations demonstrate the incredible 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 2023 Trailblazing STEM Educator Award recipients are (in alphabetical order by last name):

Caroline Little
6th–8th grade science teacher at Visitation School (Mendota Heights, Minn.)

Little has spent more than 20 years teaching science and world languages and is dedicated to inspiring the next generation of female scientists, engineers, and astronauts. She creatively breaks down complex STEM principles into easy-to-understand lessons and connects her students to real-world examples through personal experiences. For example, her students recently presented their research on lunar crop growth during a NASA Space Food webinar. Little is a Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Teacher Innovator Institute Fellow, DiscoverE Girl Day ambassador, and advisor for several national STEM-based educational programs.

Aymette Medina
High school teacher at Odyssey Academy Galveston (Galveston, Texas)

As an educator for more than a decade, Medina’s mission is to give her students every opportunity to see their potential within STEM fields. Recently, she engaged her students in the NASA TechRise Challenge, International SeaPerch Space Exploration Challenge, and the SystemsGo Rocketry Program. She uses Challenger Center and AIAA educational materials throughout her lessons and takes students on field trips to connect their learning experiences within the classroom to the real world. Medina is a Space Foundation teacher liaison and an ambassador for both Space Explorers and SeaPerch (Robonation).

Taylor Whisenant
K-12 STEAM teacher at Athens Renaissance School (ARS) (Athens, Ala.)

With a background in special education, particularly in autism spectrum disorders, Whisenant is a champion for equity and access to quality STEM education programs for all students. During her first year at ARS, she developed a robotics program with eight FIRST® Robotics teams spanning the K-12 age groups. The program has grown to 14 teams now. Whisenant is a University of Alabama in Huntsville Alumni of Achievement Honoree and a FIRST® Inspire the Future Educators Recognition Program Honoree. She is also a program delivery partner for FIRST® LEGO® League.

“With educators like Caroline, Aymette, and Taylor, STEM experiences are not only introduced to students but they are brought to life. They go above and beyond to ensure that students of all backgrounds are given the opportunity to see the world of possibilities that STEM careers offer,” said Lance Bush, president and CEO of Challenger Center. “We are thrilled to award each of these teachers with the 2023 Trailblazing STEM Educator Award.”

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 awesome educators! It is our honor to recognize them with this award. We believe teachers are invaluable to their communities, bringing their passion for learning to inspire their students. They are enabling a diverse and robust STEM-literate next generation. Together, they are shaping the future of aerospace,” said Dan Dumbacher, executive director, AIAA.

The three winners will be recognized at the 2023 AIAA Awards Gala, scheduled for May 18 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. The three winners also will be celebrated in their local communities in the coming weeks.

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.

*Please 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 more than 250,000 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-51-L. For more information about Challenger Center, please visit or connect on Instagram, Facebook, 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