Project High Flight is an educational initiative of Miami University and hyQ, LLC., that engages students in space related exercises and activities that are intended to help reawaken their natural creative abilities. Project High Flight is both an organization that people can join, and a product line that includes project based educational workshops designed to provide inspirational and enriching experiences for students of all ages. The first Student Chapter of Project High Flight was established at Miami University in 2011. While Project High Flight was created with the aim of improving retention of high ability students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematical (STEM) area disciplines, its educational benefits apply equally well for students of all abilities, disciplines and career paths. Project High Flight is for everyone.
It has been widely acknowledged there is a serious shortage of students pursuing STEM area educations and careers, and that this shortage if not corrected, will adversely affect America’s ability to sustain its leadership role in the global community (1,2). Among American High School students who are well enough prepared to pursue STEM area studies in college, many do not. Of those who do start out pursuing STEM area studies, many of those quit and change to other areas before graduation (3). The flight from STEM does not end with graduation either. People continue to leave their STEM area career fields after starting work and most never return. All of these aforementioned tendencies contribute to the dilemma. The most common reason cited for people leaving STEM fields of study is the inherent difficulty of STEM related curricula. But this explanation is overly simplistic and misleading. Plus it does nothing to explain why people continue to leave even after they graduate. The reasons for the exodus are actually many and varied, including strong economic incentives in other areas (4). So the challenge becomes how to overcome all of these things. One good way would be to fill the students with a strong passion for STEM subjects. Project High Flight was developed to accomplish just this.
Current methods for teaching STEM area content, particularly in the engineering fields, almost always focus exclusively on developing and using convergent thinking skills (finding the one best solution to a problem), and divergent thinking skills (recognizing all of the possibilities) are ignored and left to atrophy (5,6). Unfortunately, many of the programs that used to focus on developing students’ divergent thinking skills, like fine arts and music, have been eliminated to save money. This has only exacerbated the issue. Divergent thinking skills are incredibly valuable and required for creativity and innovation. As a result of this nearly exclusive focus on convergent thinking skills, STEM area students all too often end up both unfamiliar with and unprepared to use their own natural creative abilities. There are obvious implications for how creative and innovative these future scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians, are likely to be (or not be). Even more importantly though, these students are also left with a reduced capacity for joy in their studies and work (7). Inhibiting these students’ divergent thinking skills reduces their capacity to sense and appreciate the qualities of wonder and adventure in what they do, and often this just kills their passion for their work. This lack of passion certainly contributes to the high attrition rates. Project High Flight is designed to put the passion back.
Project High Flight engages students in project oriented exercises and activities intended to develop their divergent thinking skills in the context of exploring outer space. As these students’ divergent thinking skills increase, so also does their potential to think creatively. With any increase in creative thinking comes a greater appreciation for what might possibly be accomplished, and anticipation of these future accomplishments helps fuel their passion. Armed with the power of passion, these students will be more likely to stick it out when the going gets tough. They will endure any ordeal and persevere until they succeed and graduate. So again, while Project High Flight was originally created to help increase retention of STEM students, its educational benefits are universal and apply equally well for all students. Project High Flight truly is for everyone.
Project High Flight takes its name from a poem written by John Gillespie Magee Jr., an American WWII pilot who was killed in a training accident in England in 1941. Magee died only a few short months after penning his High Flight. How can anyone fail to recognize the joy Magee felt; even while facing all the anguish and uncertainty the coming war was promising to bring? More importantly though, why is it so difficult for people now a days in this relatively peaceful and prosperous time, to find that same level of joy? What is going wrong? What can be done to remedy the situation? What can be done to bring the passion back? Project High Flight can help.
by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
9 June 1922 – 11 December 1941