New heights through aerospace engineering

Five years ago, St. Paul VI Catholic High School in Chantilly did not have an engineering class.

Lisa Whiting, math teacher and former engineer, kicked off the first engineering class in 2018: Introduction to Engineering. The course received a lot of interest, and a year later another class was added, Honors Principles of Engineering, to the delight of many students. In 2021, Tom Bukat joined the faculty after a long career in engineering.

Last year, Burkat’s Honors Principles of Engineering students asked to continue learning about engineering beyond the two classes. Burkat listened and did some research. He put a few different learning topics up for a vote that resulted in Aerospace Engineering.

Most students in the advanced class have expressed interest in working in the engineering field; Some have even narrowed in on aerospace engineering, including junior Natalie Kapushoc.

“I’ve always wanted to be an engineer, but this class really opened my eyes and turned me on to aerospace as a career, especially in planes,” she said. Kapushoc hopes to one day engineer fighter plans for the US Navy.

“The engineering classes offered at PVI are great building blocks for students to take with them in their future careers, and the information will really give them a leg up in college,” Burkat said.

“I have learned so much in engineering, and I am engaged in the best ways possible with hands-on experiences,” said junior Jacob Ramsey. The class recently went on two field trips to the Air and Space Museum in Washington and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., to learn about engineering and its history.

The curriculum is thought out, with each unit establishing the next. Burkat’s students learn about aerospace engineering, from history to the detailed physics. The class covers the workings of an airplane from takeoff to landing, communicating with air traffic control towers and reading airplane instruments.

The day to day in the classroom is hands-on as well. The class experiments with building small wooden gliders to understand how they work. Students even used a flight simulator, which “brought all of their learning to life. It was the real deal,” said Burkat.

As St. Paul VI launches into the second semester, the new engineering class will explore space. Students will learn about rockets, engines and satellites. Burkat is confident his students will be successful with the curriculum put together by Project Lead the Way, a nonprofit that provides a transformative STEM learning experience.

The school’s mission is to help students grow in grace and wisdom, and Burkat thinks that engineering classes definitely help accomplish that goal. “Learning about aerospace engineering definitely helps my students develop wisdom, but it also takes some grace — because engineering is an enormous field that requires a lot of patience and compassion in order to really excel at it.”

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