Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
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Reach for the Sky

Reach for the Sky is a three-year outreach math and science program funded by the Toyota USA Foundation, Institute of Technology (IT) at the University of Minnesota, NASA and 4-H. For three days each month, three IT students, and a math student, travel to the White Earth Reservation to teach hands-on physics and engineering projects to Reservation high school youth at the Circle of Life School. Two staff members from 4-H also take part. The school is an alternative school where many students are considered to be at risk because of poverty. All receive a free school lunch. In 2002, the program included aerospace activities. This year human powered vehicles were built, and this coming school year small engines will be introduced.

The goals of Reach for the Sky are to:

  1. Improve test scores in math and science, school attendance and graduation
  2. Make science culturally relevant,
  3. Disseminate the model to other Ojibwe reservations.
During the school year, Circle of Life students made traditional human powered vehicles (Ojibwe snow shoes, moccasins, and a birch bark canoe), and they learned to fix and build modern vehicles such as bicyles, and tricycles that were raced. White Earth elders taught the cultural aspects of science. Faculty from IT involved in Reach for the Sky include Dr. Len Kuhi, Department of Astronomy, who was the principal investigator for a year of aerospace programming. Dr.Ashely James, Department of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics, developed the technical curriculum. Dave Hultman, Managing Research Engineer, Department of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics, taught University student teachers, and Circle of Life youth how to use shop tools. He also created prototypes for three-wheeled bikes, soap box cars, and water bikes. This year he will oversee the development of a work shop at the school.


Dr. William Garrard headed the science advisory board. A long term goal of the project is to provide youth with the skills to enter a technical work force, and to bring industry to the Reservation where people want to live and work.

Program results for this year have been positive. Student scores on The Department of Defense Education Activity Terra Nova 2002 test improved during the school year by 20% in math, and 14% in science. The Circle of Life School principal also reported that average daily attendance improved from 80% in the 2001-2002 school year to 87% in 2002-2003. Attendance was also up for Reach for the Sky days. This is the first year that most high school graduates have plans to continue their education beyond high school.

Two major factors are contributing to the success of Reach for the Sky:

  • Formal evaluations show that the involvement of University faculty and students has helped stabalize the high turn over of teachers in math and science.
  • The University students are also positive role models who have shown youth that there is a world outside the Reservation.

Last Modified: 2008-02-05 at 12:45:46 -- this is in International Standard Date and Time Notation