Maj. Shelley Potts - Texas Wing
Posted on July 17, 2023 at 10:40 AM by Virginia Smith
Maj. Shelley Potts, AEO for Bell County Composite Squadron in Temple, Texas, participates in a Space Camp activity.
July 17, 2023
Meet Maj. Shelley Potts, Aerospace Education Officer (AEO) for SWR-TX-403, Bell County Composite Squadron in Temple, Texas. Her CAP journey began as an Aerospace Education Member (AEM) five years ago. She has been a teacher since 1993 and worked at a NASA Explorer School, taught science, STEM, robotics, gifted and talented, and students K-12. "Teaching space exploration was just a natural step for me," she says. "As a kid I would watch the astronauts doing spacewalks and Space Shuttle launches on NASA TV. My favorite teachers always taught science." She also credits the Honeywell Educators Space Academy Space Camp experience at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for making her a self-described "NASA Nerd." Earlier this summer Maj. Potts visited the Space Coast (not her first visit) for the 2023 CAP National AEO School at Patrick Space Force Base, Kennedy Space Center, and Cape Canaveral. She says she "thoroughly enjoyed" the event, the 20th CAP National AEO School. "I also made new contacts with other AEOs, whom I will definitely be contacting for their expertise areas," she says. Aerospace Education is just one of the areas she serves in CAP. "Last summer, I had my first find with our emergency services ground team." We asked her some questions about her CAP and teaching careers. Her complete answers follow:
Tell us about your current squadron and duty positions.
Squadron participates in Moon Day 2021.
I am Aerospace Education Officer, Finance Officer, Charter Member and Emergency Service Ground Team member of SWR-TX-403 Bell County Composite Squadron.
How did you get involved in Civil Air Patrol?
I was recruited to be an AEM after hearing about it from fellow teachers and seeing a Civil Air Patrol booth at a teacher’s conference. After getting the flight simulator STEM kit, I realized there was still a lot I had not learned about flying. I was heavy into learning about space exploration, but still had a lot to learn about flying planes.
At the time. I was working in a middle school near what is now called Fort Cavazos (formerly Fort Hood) Army Base. Every year they have a special day to honor Veterans. At the ceremony, a Civil Air Patrol cadet played "Taps." This surprised me as the nearest squadron met over 40 minutes away, and I had never met a cadet with Civil Air Patrol.
I quickly sought the cadet out after the ceremony and met his father, who was a captain with Civil Air Patrol. The two of them were working on starting a squadron in the community with the blessing of the commander of their squadron. I was invited to a meeting that happened to be within 10 minutes of my house. I found a group of about six people. They were quickly impressed with my knowledge of space exploration and quickly invited me to teach Aerospace Education and become the Aerospace Education Officer of what would become the new squadron.
How many years have you been in the Civil Air Patrol?
I have been in Civil Air Patrol for five years. I joined July 4, 2018, as an AEM.
Tell us about your career outside of Civil Air Patrol. How long have you been in this field and why did you choose it?
I have taken a new position this fall working with the special education department for Temple Independent School District in Temple, Texas, as an educational diagnostician. Diagnosticians evaluate educational needs of students and assess cognitive and academic needs. I have been a teacher since 1993, and I have worked at a NASA Explorer School, taught Science, STEM, robotics, gifted and talented, and students K-12. I think teaching called to me because it was a way for me to express my love for learning. I love the chance to join in and be a big kid and learn along with my students and cadets. Teaching space exploration was just a natural step for me. As a kid, I would watch the astronauts doing spacewalks and Space Shuttle launches on NASA TV. My favorite teachers always taught science.
Tell us about your aerospace education background that you'd like to include (education/awards/etc.) within and outside of CAP.
I am a Honeywell Educator Space Academy (HESA) Teacher (2017) at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. This program sincerely changed my life and launched the spark that has also changed others' lives through me. I attended with 200 other outstanding educators from around the world. I consider these teachers lifelong friends and some of the best teachers in the world. This inspired me and was the spark that made me the NASA Nerd I am today. In 2018, I went back to Huntsville, Alabama, for Advanced Educator Space Academy.
I also attended a workshop with Bill Yucuis [an AFA StellarXplorers developer] at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, on StellarXplorers. Later Bill and I taught workshops at both the Space Exploration Educators Conference (SEEC) and the Space Port Area Conference for Educators at Kennedy Space Center. My middle school students formed a team in 2018 and usually performed in the top 50% of high school students.
In 2019, I was honored again, by the Texas Space Grant Consortium and joined the Summer Lift-off Legacy of Apollo. I was also selected to attend Air Camp for Educators in Dayton, Ohio, and sponsored by United Airlines. Air Camp is an experience similar to Space Camp for flight in which the history of the Wright Brothers and the National Air Force Museum play a major part.
The following fall my middle schoolers decided to compete in the ROADS on Mars competition through the Northwest Earth and Science Pipeline, which is a virtual NASA center for the Northwest part of the United States. That year I had three teams competing. My middle schoolers won one of the challenges called “Search for Past Life.” [Maj. Potts suggests checking out the center's website here.]
I think many aerospace educators forget that STEM education should include all sciences including biology. As space travel expands, our astronauts will need food and they will also be searching for evidence of life both past and present.
I have taught teachers at Johnson Space Center a total of three times and Kennedy Space Center once. I have also volunteered as a judge for multiple robotics competitions and helped judge high school intern applications for the Texas Space Grant Consortium.
Last summer, I had my first find with our emergency services ground team. An Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) was reported going off in our area. We found both the transmitter and a missing aircraft that had failed to check back in after a cross-country flight.
Within CAP, why do you work in the Aerospace Education mission area? Why do you encourage youth in the Aerospace Education area?
Rockets! I was lured in by the opportunity to do more rocketry! LOL! My favorite days always involve rocketry. I launched my first rocket with a NASA engineer at Johnson Space Center at a Space Exploration Educators Conference (SEEC). I was hooked.
Seriously though, I love working as an AEO because the cadets are interested in learning and are so polite. I love introducing them to STEM careers. You never know what they will surprise you with later. I will never forget one cadet was interested in becoming an astrogeologist after completing the NASA blue marble lesson in a meeting.
What is the best CAP experience you have had since joining the organization?
In July 2019, CAP Aerospace Education had a national video competition. My cadets put on an award-winning performance! We all pulled together to make a video that told the story of the first landing on the Moon. Our astronaut in the capsule was placed on one of those upside-down back stretchers and was literally facing the ceiling and shaken for the launch scene. We even got a HAZMAT suit and a green screen for our astronaut to make him look like he was bouncing on the Moon -- he jumped on couch cushions. We ended up coming in 2nd place, but our cadets really understood the significance of the Moon landing by the time we were finished and had a great time, too.
Tell us about how you use Civil Air Patrol Aerospace Education programs internally and externally.
The classes I taught in school benefited from STEM kits, Aerospace Connections in Education (ACE), and the Aerospace Education Excellence (AEX) program. When I taught elementary students, they loved the aerospace lessons on the days before holidays. STEM kits were often a reward for students who finished their work successfully and early.
I often use STEM kits such as renewable energy for engineering challenges for my cadets. It is not unusual for me to do a quick lesson, followed by reminding my cadets of the engineering process. It is important to remind them that they are a team and mistakes are how they learn and how they will improve. They are then given a time limit and told to build according to the instruction manual first and then improve it. The meeting is then completed with a final competition before dismissal.
Please tell us about your experience at the 2023 National AEO School on the Space Coast in Florida.
This was my first National AEO School. I had attended the Rocky Mountain Regional AEO School virtually during COVID. My commander had tried to talk me into going to the National AEO school in the past. I had been to Kennedy Space Center in the past and had a firm grip on my duties as an AEO officer. I really didn’t expect to learn or see much more, but I was ready for another summer adventure. I try to do something space related every summer. I was pleasantly surprised and thoroughly enjoyed the National AEO School. I also made new contacts with other AEOs, whom I will definitely be contacting for their expertise areas.
What is the best advice you have for a new AE Officer working with cadets?
• Start by teaching something you love. Make sure that the majority of the time is spent by the cadets doing an activity. Don’t give the cadets all the answers. Let them make mistakes. The results of the activity shouldn’t all look the same. Make sure you keep it fun!
• Contact local museums and club experts such as astronomy, RC planes, and model rocketry. Many of these organizations would love to do activities with or for your cadets.
• I wish someone had suggested doing a Rocketry Academy when I first started. It is also easier to work on the Rocketry badge in two days than trying to spread it out. We had our first Rocket Academy this year and had better results than spreading the Rocketry badge over months.
• Don’t be afraid to learn new things! A lot of things advertised for teachers allow AEOs to participate. It doesn’t hurt to ask. Check into resources like your state’s Space Grant Consortium and the NASA express newsletter (https://www.nasa.gov/stem/express ).
Do you have any suggestions for how to conduct outreach in schools (working with students and/or recruiting AEMs)?
First, remember school is not the same as when you went to school. Every school district is different, and every state is different. Many schools will not allow the public in at all. It is a safety issue. If you know someone in the school, ask them for advice first. A lot of people are overworked in the schools. Don’t be offended if they don’t get back to you when you make requests, just check back again at a time that might be less busy.
There is a lot of pressure in many schools concerning test scores; so many teachers will not consider volunteers or presenters. Instead of requesting to come in on a regular basis to volunteer to teach, consider volunteering to come on the last day before the holiday or during the last two weeks of school. Ask in advance as most schools do background checks. If you want to volunteer to tutor struggling students using the school curriculum, you will probably be met with open arms.
If you want to recruit AEMs, it is best to talk to them outside of school hours. Places to find AEMs include teacher conferences (check online) and teacher stores. Most schools conduct professional development before school starts. Think about doing welcome back goody bags for the staff. Even dessert to just say thank you will get you in the door. (Hint: call ahead and make sure the staff will be there and find out numbers.) Entry year teachers often start before the other teachers.
If you want to lead professional development for teachers, contact your state education department/agency and find out what the process is for giving teachers credit or professional development hours. Teachers are required to complete professional development hours every year, and many would be interested in doing something different from the norm like aerospace education. Find out who schedules and arranges professional development in the district. Sometimes, they are willing to give you time and space if you are willing to do it on their already scheduled professional development days.
Many schools are adding Career Technology Education (CTE) classes (which may go by a different title in your state). These are elective classes, and these teachers may be more open to CAP opportunities than other teachers. Some schools are even offering drone certifications!
Also consider looking for home school groups and fairs. Home school families are usually interested in CAP for social and physical education (PT) cadet opportunities, but also can lead to potential AEMs.
Don’t forget to talk to your local librarian and museum curators. Libraries and museums have been adding STEM for patrons. I recruited a museum curator who was looking for STEM grant opportunities.
STEM and Science Fairs are also often held at colleges, museums, city parks, and Boy Scout/Girl Scout events. Check your local community event posting or inquire with the group school organizers for outreach AE opportunities. I always take STEM kits for the public to play with and learn from.
Please tell an anecdote of a rewarding experience working with cadets and/or students or teachers.
Civil Air Patrol brings out the best in everyone. I’ve seen troubled kids who were in the principal’s office often become stellar cadets and students boasting “CAP was their life!” and recruiting friends to join competitions and CAP.
I also had the honor of cheering on a cadet earning his private pilot’s license through the WINGS program.
I’m also very proud of my own son, a former cadet. He is going to the University of Huntsville Alabama and majoring in Engineering Technology. He is also currently doing an internship with EOS, one of the top 3D printing companies in the world, doing research and development. They also make 3D printing materials for almost every aerospace company in the world. I usually tell people that I had hoped he would get a job with one of the aerospace companies. Instead, he contracts with all of them.
Is there anything else that we didn’t ask that you’d like to add for this spotlight on an AE Officer? We want to tell your story.
Don’t be afraid to use social media. You can find out about events in your area, challenges, and opportunities to benefit your cadets. You can also use it to advertise your events and recruit AEMs. Become a member of teacher groups, parent groups, and NASA groups on Facebook.
Cadets work on solar moon rover project, left, and visit a middle school for its STEM day, right.