Inspired by the Next Generation

In today’s world, there is much to concern us about the future. Nonetheless, AIAA sees great promise in the future based on the young people we meet. Over the last several weeks, we have met many remarkable students (and educators) at AIAA events. Their common qualities are curiosity, a strong sense of purpose, imagination, innovation, and a willingness to tackle hard things – which are exactly what the aerospace community needs to solve the generational-scale challenges ahead.

While preparing to go on stage at the 2024 AIAA Awards Gala, members of the United States Space Force Honor Guard Colors Team were introduced to the Class of 2024 AIAA Fellows. The young Guardians were impressive, exemplifying teamwork, professionalism, and excellence – qualities honor guard members are known for. And they surprised us with their intense curiosity. New AIAA Fellows J.D. McFarlan and Rick Mange shared their F-35 experiences with them, further inspiring them in their career pursuits. The quality of curiosity in the next generation of aerospace professionals will make the most difference in advancing aeronautics and astronautics, and ultimately improving life on Earth for everyone.

During the Gala, we celebrated four graduating high school seniors who will embark on their university education supported by the AIAA Roger W. Kahn Scholarship. This fall, they will attend Georgia Institute of Technology (two winners), Stanford University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We also celebrated three Trailblazing STEM Educators who are inspiring and teaching students at the K-12 levels. Each of these honorees shared a few thoughts with the audience. One student committed to using their aerospace education to transform the world for good. An educator said that receiving the honor was motivating them to do even more to advance STEM programs to the underserved youth in their community because they believe what aerospace contributes to the world is far more important than the hype of top sports competitions. With that type of passion, students will see great opportunity! It was clear by the standing ovation that the audience agreed – our future is bright because of a profound sense of purpose.

We recently hosted the 28th AIAA Design/Build/Fly Competition in Wichita, Kansas. Nearly 1,100 university students on 88 teams competed, including teams from 12 countries outside the United States, collaborating and cheering for each other on a long, windy weekend. We even welcomed a high school team with a plane they built that met all the requirements. Time constraints kept them from flying, yet they had a great experience and they will return as university students. The technical challenge this year was to design, build, and test a remotely operated radio control airplane for one of the newest modes of flight – urban air mobility. The teams demonstrated a delivery flight, a medical transport flight, and an urban taxi flight. Their DBF experience also included developing essential skills for their future: teamwork, camaraderie, perseverance, adapting to the unexpected, coping with defeat, and celebrating success. These qualities are vital in aerospace. We should all be encouraged that these students represent the next generation. They will be leading our community. They will help us experience flight in ways we are only beginning to imagine. Our community’s future is bright because of their imagination and innovation.

This semester, the AIAA Regional Student Conferences showcased the research of our university members. The 268 papers presented across six student conferences were top quality, reflecting the high caliber of the students and their academic programs. You can read them on Aerospace Research Central (ARC) when they are published this summer. More than 90 universities were represented. We are fortunate that accomplished professors are preparing the next generation. Conducting challenging research and vigorous technical exchanges are helping make our future bright.

Most importantly, AIAA is reaching into communities not typically associated with or exposed to aerospace and STEM topics. The AIAA Foundation makes it possible for us to continue these programs and others in economically disadvantaged, underserved, and underrepresented communities. It’s one powerful way we will increase and enhance the much-needed STEM-literate talent pool for our future globally competitive workforce. In addition, AIAA is helping lead the Space4All national space STEM awareness campaign aiming to inspire, prepare, and employ a diverse space workforce. We will be sharing much more about this exciting new effort soon and you can learn more now at

We often talk about the role of experienced professionals to inspire the next generation. Lately, it seems the next generation is inspiring everyone else, myself included. They remind us of what is possible. They embody what it means to be shaping the future of aerospace.

Enjoy the photos of these events throughout the June AIAA Bulletin and on the event’s AIAA Flickr pages. Read more about these events on

Inspired by the Next Generation