Teachers Get Exclusive Look at Nation’s Iconic Aerospace Company

U.S. Air Force veteran looks forward to taking real-world experience into PLTW Engineering Aerospace classroom

After 25 years serving in the United States Air Force (USAF), a Myers-Briggs test pointed Mike Kloenne to a second career in education. He joined the team at St. Mary’s High School in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and began teaching math. But with enrollment declining and a personal mission to inspire students, Kloenne’s principal tasked him with improving the school’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

“With this prompt, I did my research and found PLTW,” he said. “I knew this would be the right program for our school and community.”

Kloenne began teaching in 2012, and in 2014, St. Mary’s began offering its first PLTW course, Introduction to Engineering Design. In the following years, the school added one class at a time to eventually offer the full PLTW Engineering pathway, which engages students in compelling, real-world challenges that help them become better collaborators and thinkers. From launching space explorations to delivering safe, clean water to communities, students learn how engineers find solutions to pressing problems.

“PLTW courses excite students because it gives them a break from the more traditional classroom setting they have in other courses,” Kloenne said. “PLTW is great because it offers students gray problems. This allows them to use all the skills they will need for college, careers, and life. It offers critical and creative thinking, collaboration, and communication skills that are truly life skills.”

Today, enrollment is growing at St. Mary’s, and the school is one of the only private schools in Colorado that offers PLTW Engineering. Since implementing PLTW, Kloenne has raised $250,000 in grant funds to support program growth.

“We have to select our courses carefully,” Kloenne said. “We also would like to keep our best Colorado talent in Colorado, and Colorado is rapidly growing in the aerospace arena. According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, Colorado has moved from the 16th state in 2013 to the 5th state in 2018 in aerospace manufacturing output. To support Colorado Springs and Colorado's surging growth in the aerospace sector, St. Mary's made the decision to add PLTW's Aerospace Engineering (course) to our PLTW Engineering pathway.”

This summer, Kloenne attended PLTW Core Training at Seattle University to complete PLTW Professional Development to teach Aerospace Engineering this fall. In this course, students explore the physics of flight and bring what they’re learning to life through hands-on projects like designing a glider and creating a program for an autonomous space rover.  

In PLTW Core Training, teachers immerse themselves in a hands-on, collaborative learning environment where they take on the role of the student. Part of that experience includes learning more about our rapidly evolving world of work. For example, teachers like Kloenne completing PLTW Core Training for AE at Seattle University had the opportunity to get an exclusive behind-the-scenes experience at Boeing. The Everett, Washington, Boeing facility is home to the 747, 767, 777, and 787 Dreamliner production lines and is the world’s largest building by volume.

“The tour at Boeing was phenomenal, and a great privilege to go and learn how one of America's iconic aerospace industries gets all done,” Kloenne said. “I'll be honest, I picked Seattle for my core training over another location because I knew Boeing was there. It was fascinating to see how the entire ecosystem operates on a daily basis. I will have much to share with my students about Boeing.”

With more than 4,000 flying hours in the USAF, more than 12 years as an instructor training new Electronic Warfare Officers, and a commitment to breaking down any barrier that stands in the way of St. Mary’s students having access to career learning opportunities, Kloenne is empowering students at St. Mary’s to thrive no matter what career path they choose.