Press Releases  |  3.15.2022

Challenger Center and AIAA Announce Inaugural Winners of Trailblazing STEM Educator Award

Challenger Center

Five STEM educators and schools receive cash award and free STEM programming

Washington, D.C., and Reston, Va. (March 15, 2022)Challenger Center and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) today announced Jackie Blumer, Jennifer Cheesman, Kellie Taylor, Cedric Turner, and Katrina Harden Williams as the winners of the 2022 Trailblazing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Educator Award. Each teacher, and their respective schools, will be awarded $5,000. In addition, each teacher will receive free access to Challenger Center STEM programming. One of the five educators will be named the grand prize winner and be invited to join Club for the Future, Blue Origin’s nonprofit, at a future New Shepard launch.

The award celebrates K-12 teachers going above and beyond to inspire the next generation of explorers and innovators. The five winners come from schools across the United States and were selected from over 40 nominations. The nominations demonstrated the incredible efforts the teachers make 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, especially throughout the difficult circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2022 Trailblazing STEM Educator Award recipients are (in alphabetical order by last name):

Jackie Blumer, 6th and 7th grade science teacher, Greenville Junior High School (Greenville, Ill.). Blumer has over two decades of experience teaching STEM to K-12 students. A passionate space science educator, Blumer uses live rocket launches, engineering design challenges, and hands-on programs to excite her students about STEM. She has been at the forefront of the use of digital programs in the classroom, utilizing virtual missions when field trips were no longer an option. She also organizes STEM-focused after-school activities and camps for students. Blumer also serves as AIAA St. Louis Section STEM Chair.

Jennifer Cheesman, 6th grade science teacher, Zuni Hills Elementary School (Sun City, Ariz.). Cheesman has spent 26 years teaching and is dedicated to integrating high-level concepts into engaging and easily understandable methods. For example, she created the “Lab in a Bag” engineering design program, sending engineering kits to students’ homes while they were learning virtually to continue STEM engagement. Cheesman is heavily involved in local STEM organizations including AIAA, Higher Orbits, and STEM Teachers PHX. She also spent time teaching STEM in China and Vietnam. Prior to being a classroom teacher, Cheesman was a Flight Director at a Challenger Learning Center.

Katrina Harden Williams, middle school teacher, Ames Middle School (Ames, Iowa). Williams has been an educator for over 28 years. She is enthusiastic about connecting real-world STEM careers and lessons to the classroom, as well as exposing underserved and underrepresented students to STEM disciplines and careers. During the pandemic, she creatively taught her students about PPE and other COVID support programs. She frequently hosts STEM-focused after-school activities, field trips, and career expos.

Kellie Taylor, 2nd and 3rd grade teacher, Hawthorne Elementary School (Boise, Idaho). Taylor has prioritized STEM in her classroom for her entire 18-year career, focusing on project-based learning with a strong emphasis on coding, robotics, space education, and hands-on programs. She leads STEM curriculum development, hosts STEM-focused after-school activities, and shares her passion for STEM education by leading professional development workshops for her colleagues.

Cedric Turner, high school teacher, Brockton High School (Brockton, Mass.). Turner has more than 30 years of experience teaching STEM in the Boston area. He focuses on inspiring the next generation of minority and underrepresented students in STEM through his after-school program, “Empower Yourself,” lunch and learn programs that connect students to local STEM professionals and STEM competitions, and educate students about wealth management and economic success. At the onset of the pandemic, Turner worked with local partners to obtain personal computers and internet services for his students.

“We are thrilled to award each of these teachers with the Trailblazing STEM Educator Award. Their commitment and creativity to transform complex STEM lessons into fun and accessible curriculum is key to getting students excited about the world of possibilities STEM offers,” said Lance Bush, president and CEO, Challenger Center. “Thanks to teachers like Jackie, Jennifer, Kellie, Cedric, and Katrina, the future of our workforce, and the future of STEM education, is in great hands.”

Even as the U.S. aerospace and defense industry leads the world in innovation, it faces challenges with the workforce: a skills gap of STEM-literate students entering the industry, a need for greater participation by women and ethnic minorities, and a growing knowledge gap from early retirements. Based on the “2021 AIAA State of the Industry Report,” nearly 50% of respondents believe an increased focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion by aerospace industry employers will help increase the pipeline of skilled, competent aerospace professionals.

“The inaugural Trailblazing STEM Educator Award winners are incredible people! We are pleased to recognize these passionate and inspirational educators who are invaluable to their communities. They are enabling a diverse and robust STEM next generation and together they are shaping the future of aerospace,” said Dan Dumbacher, executive director, AIAA.

The five winners will be recognized, and the grand prize winner will be announced, at the 2022 AIAA Awards Gala. The Gala is scheduled for April 27 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, Washington, DC. The evening celebrates the most influential and inspiring individuals in aerospace. Tickets are available now. The five 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.


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 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.