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Outreach efforts of Lt. Col. Michael Castania, New Jersey DAE, are making a big impact

Posted on 06/18/2021 at 11:38 AM by Virginia Smith

At school with students and bottle rockets

Lt. Col. Michael Castania, New Jersey DAE, has been a member of Civil Air Patrol  for almost 25 years. He is shown here with students from St. Catherine School

June 18, 2021

Meet Lt. Col. Michael Castania, the New Jersey Wing Director of Aerospace Education (DAE). In 1996, he became interested in CAP when he read an article about CAP's assistance with the National Transportation Safety Board following a local plane crash. At the time, he was a high school teacher as well as a pilot. He is a licensed FAA private pilot (single engine land and gliders) and holds an sUAS Remote Pilot certification. In 2004, he created the first New Jersey Wing Glider Program. Why does he encourage youth in aerospace/STEM? "I see the look on their faces when I announce 'your aircraft' during orientation flights," he says, "and then seeing the look of pride and accomplishment on their faces as they receive solo wings following our powered and glider academies." He also serves as AE external programs coordinator for the National Headquarters staff. His work with a number of New Jersey educational groups illustrates the benefits of CAP outreach. A retired high school theater teacher with a passion for aerospace education, he enjoys inspiring youth to have an enthusiasm for aerospace topics. We asked him some questions about his Civil Air Patrol career and his teaching career, and his answers follow.

Tell us about your current CAP duty positions.

I am the New Jersey Wing DAE (NER-NJ-001) and also serve as Northeast Region AE Outreach Coordinator and National Headquarters (NHQ) AE Volunteer Staff and CAP's Volunteer University Instructor (Levels I-V).

Lt. Col. Castania speaks to AEOs

How did you get involved in Civil Air Patrol?

In 1996, I read an article in the local paper about an aircraft accident that mentioned CAP assisting the National Transportation Safety Board. I was curious and later met with the commander of the Picatinny Composite Squadron. Once he discovered that I was a high school teacher and a private pilot, he immediately recruited me and appointed me as their Assistant AEO. Having never served in the military, all this saluting stuff was difficult to master; after all, “teachers don’t salute.”

How many years have you been in Civil Air Patrol? Tell us about your CAP career path that led to your current role.

Come this September, I will have served 25 years. It has been quite a ride. In a short time, I found myself assigned to take on the role of Deputy Commander for a new flight formed at my local airport. I reluctantly agreed as I still had a lot to learn. When the commander left, I became commander. 

I served as Squadron Commander, New Jersey Wing Group 221 AEO, and eventually NJWG DAE. During that time, I served as an Orientation Pilot and I created the first NJWG Glider Program in 2004 after requesting and receiving one of the USAF Academy's Schweizer 2-33s, 42S (back then, the glider programs were Wing assets) and was appointed as NJWG DOG (Director of Glider Operations). Additionally, I served three tours as the Deputy Commander of NJWG’s Falcon Flight Academy, eight tours as SOF (Supervisor of Flight) for NER’s Glider Academy and am currently Co-Director for NJWG’s NFA Falcon Flight Academy.

Tell us about any awards and achievements within and outside of CAP that you'd like to mention. 

In addition to the awards listed, I have numerous CAP Emergency Service qualifications dating back to 1996.

CAP Awards (1996 to present)

  • Master Rating in Aerospace Education and Professional Development.
  • Gill Robb Wilson Award  
  • General Charles "Chuck" Yeager Award 
  • Scott Crossfield Award 
  • Northeast Region Aerospace Education Teacher of the Year Award 
  • Northeast Region Aerospace Education Officer of the Year Award 
  • Northeast Region Frank Brewer Memorial Aerospace Education Award (Senior Member)
  • Northeast Region Frank Brewer Memorial Lifetime Aerospace Education Achievement Award 
  • General Jeanne M. Holm Aerospace Education Officer of the Year Award (National)
  • Nine Achievement Awards
  • 11 Commander’s Commendations
  • Two Meritorious Service Awards
  • Exceptional Service Award
  • National Commander’s Commendation

Past Achievements:

  • EAA Young Eagles Pilot
  • Creator of one of the first CAP Glider Orientation Flight programs, obtaining a Schweizer 2-33A Glider from the USAF Academy, and  serving as the first NJWG Director of Glider Operations (DOG)
  • Participant (5 years) USAF/Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Community Youth Diversity Outreach STEM Exposition
  • Creator of the JBMDL Library Saturday Morning STEM Workshops presenting to the children of our active duty Joint Base personnel
  • Creation and Implementation of 30 new AE Outreach Strategies. Published on NHQ’s Aerospace Education Website

Of personal significance is the creation of the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Library Saturday Morning STEM Workshops for the children of the active duty personnel assigned. Working directly with the base library director, we (New Jersey Wing External Programs Director Capt. Kathy Francis and I) offered hands-on STEM activities engaging children ages 6-18 (sometimes younger). Capt. Francis and I were able to secure $11,000 in grant monies to fund the purchase of STEM Kits, which were given to the children in attendance.

Speaking of Capt. Kathy Francis, she created her own version of CAP’s Adopt-a-Classroom at St. Catharine School, where she teaches middle school science. For the past 6 years, we have been conducting at least a half dozen activities each with her 6th, 7th and 8th grade students. These included making Tissue Paper Hot Air Balloons; designing/launching Soda Bottle Water Rockets; designing a Lunar/Mars Rover module Raw Egg Drop vehicle; construct the FPG-9 Styrofoam Gliders; becoming test pilots experimenting with yaw/pitch/roll; building Delta Darts; practicing navigation using Google Earth, SkyVector software, and the Navigation STEM Kits. The best activity included her day-long Aviation Day Fair in the school’s gymnasium for all grades to attend.

In 2019, I was asked to testify before the NJ Legislature as an educator, high-ranking NJWG Officer, and NJWG’s DAE; In January of 2021, I was appointed to serve on the Governors Aviation Public Use Task Force (NJ A4377).

I am currently vigorously promoting AOPA’s High School Aviation Curriculum with members of the NJ Aviation Education Council. Thus far, we have six school districts actively participating, four more onboard starting in the fall as well as a number of other districts indicating interest. This provided the perfect vehicle to introduce CAP’s AE program initiatives (ACE, AEX, AEM, TOP, Cadet Membership and Cadet Invest opportunities) to augment the AOPA curriculum or simply as a stand-alone resource.

Tell us about the work you are doing with Atlantic County Institute of Technology (ACIT)  and the recent $40 million grant recommendation ACIT received.

I fell into this relationship through networking. As a member of the NJ Aviation Education Council, I met Jamie Moscony, ACIT Administrator, who spearheaded the school’s unique curriculum recognizing the need for aviation careers in New Jersey’s Atlantic County. With KACY (Atlantic City International Airport) and the FAA’s Hughes Tech Center just minutes from the high school, this was a no-brainer. I recruited Jamie as an AEM and I was asked to make presentations to her staff and eventually became a regular speaker in the Aviation Studies classroom. I participate in their summer Jump-Start program for the incoming 9th grade students and serve on their Aviation Advisory Board. It is important to note that this program was the first of its kind and created from scratch. With my longtime program involvement, Dr. Phil Guenther (superintendent) asked if I would write a letter of support as ACIT applied for significant grant money from the state. The money would allow the school to build a new wing housing additional unique programs, one of which will be the inclusion of a new high school aviation maintenance curriculum. The $40 million grant was recently announced in the initial round of New Jersey's Securing Our Children's Bond Act projects.

I have also written letters of support for FAA grant monies on behalf of Morris Hills School District, Egg Harbor Township School District and Egg Harbor Township Police Activities League.

Tell us about your career outside of Civil Air Patrol.

After 35 years, I retired from Wayne Hills High School, where I taught Theatre Arts, Television Production, Film Analysis and Public Speaking. I am also a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (union stagehand) working the rock concerts and Broadway tours in and around metropolitan NYC. I am voraciously involved in promoting aviation and aerospace career paths to our youth while volunteering with a number of aviation- and aerospace-related organizations. 

Why do you work in the Aerospace Education mission area and encourage youth in this area?

It has to be a teacher thing. I graduated college with a degree in Stage Lighting and Set Design and took a job teaching high school theatre until offered a position on Broadway -- that never happened as I fell in love with teaching, directing and designing shows on the high school level. CAP AE is simply an extension of that passion. Walt Disney once said… “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Seems to me that CAP is the perfect pathway to developing leadership skills and opening their eyes to career opportunities not yet dreamed. I see the look on their faces when I announce “your aircraft” during orientation flights and then seeing the look of pride and accomplishment on their faces as they receive solo their wings following our powered and glider academies. It is a teacher thing; you need to share your love and passion for aerospace with your cadets. It is infectious. Lead by example.

What is the best advice you have for a new AE Officer working with cadets?

Another quote comes to mind. “The sky is no longer the limit as there are footprints on the moon” (and now, tire tracks on Mars). Adopt the mantra, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

You have expertise in outreach and use that knowledge by serving on the National Staff in the area of AE outreach. Do you have any suggestions for how to conduct outreach in schools (working with students and recruiting AEMs)?

It’s all about networking … who are the educational movers and shakers in your state … state DOE, state BOE, teacher’s union, county superintendents, etc. Ask to be included in statewide school administrator conferences, statewide board of education conferences, statewide teacher conferences … bring your STEM Kits, display available educational materials, talk ACE, AEX and AEM. Take a look at CAP’s strategic plan. Everything you need is right there. (Editors note: To see Lt. Col. Castania's 30 suggestions for AE outreach, click here.) 

Please tell an anecdote of a rewarding experience working with cadets and/or students or teachers:

Following a presentation on gliders to a group of primary grade students, I received close to 100 hand drawn images of my presentation showing gliders, cockpits (complete with instruments), being towed, and one of me hanging from a parachute. 

Is there anything else that we didn’t ask that you’d like to add for this spotlight on an AE Officer? 

Be passionate… go forth and preach the gospel of aviation!

Left, Lt. Col. Castania and teachers at an AEM workshop. Right, he works with students at a soda bottle water rocket activity at a local school.


 

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