AMU Careers & Learning Editor's Pick Original Space

Education, Space and Employment: The Expanding Frontiers

By Michelle Watts, Ph.D., Faculty Director, School of Security and Global Studies, American Military University and

Nicole K. Drumhiller, Ph.D., CTM, Associate Dean, School of Security and Global Studies, American Military University.

Last week at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, we and Colonel Kevin Kick of the Colorado Army National Guard were on a mission to gather feedback on what leaders in academia, industry and the military want to see in education. We are thinking about the needs of the future, including educating the space force.

Given the current political environment where much attention is focused on the future of space, we were able to create an incredible dialogue with stakeholders from government and industry on the future employment needs in this area. During the discussion, we received useful insight on the direction K-12 and higher education needs to take, as well as communication between private and public sectors.

Retirees from the Space Industry Creating a Skills Gap

First, the importance of education cannot be underestimated as the current cadre of qualified employees is retiring. This is, without a doubt, creating a skills gap where experienced personnel are leaving and new employees are forced to adjust.

It’s not only the young who can benefit from space and related industries, but people wishing to transition into new careers. In an industry that is constantly asked to do more with less, professional development offers new opportunities and challenges that allow for the retention of employees and greater efficiency of businesses and organizations.

Developing Communication Skills Is Equally Important for Those in the Space Industry 

Second, communication is key. This is imperative. Those involved in engineering, software and other technology have to be able to talk to those involved in business as well as political and policy decision making.

Students in every field must be able to speak and write clearly in order to communicate their ideas, whether they are talking to members of their team or their supervisors or presenting to Congress. Mastering the fundamental skills of effective writing and oral communication will set individuals apart in this industry.

Innovation Requires Risk

Students and leaders must be educated not only to communicate but to be innovative and think outside the box. They need to be able to accept risk and be willing to fail.

Being able to reach across units and industries is key as those who have backgrounds in policy will need to be able to address STEM-oriented context and vice versa.  In this work climate, those able to comprehend both policy and STEM-oriented context will become tomorrow’s innovative leaders.

The Tangible Benefits of the Space Industry

Third, there is a need to communicate not only the excitement of being involved in the space program and related industries, but the very real practical outcomes that come from the space program in terms of technological advances. The United States does not want to return to the moon and bring humans to Mars one day for bragging rights; there are tangible scientific advances that have occurred because of space missions.

NASA’s Bringing Technology Down to Earth, for example, tells this technological advancements story and demonstrates how space exploration has a positive benefit on our daily lives. From camera phones and more advanced artificial limbs to the Jaws of Life and water purification systems, there are an array of practical and even life-saving items that have been created as a result of the space industry.

STEM and Space Education Need to Be Started Early in Students’ Lives

There is no age that is too early to integrate STEM and space into the curriculum. There is a need for a younger generation to be able to imagine a future where space increasingly factors into daily lives.

From an education standpoint, rather than being an afterthought, space needs to be a deliberate part of the conversation. There are many opportunities to integrate space into discussions that are already being had within the classroom.  The dynamics of space as an operating area will yield a variety of exciting opportunities and challenges that will need to be overcome, especially as commercial and tourism industry take to the stars.

For the U.S. population, this means ensuring that the minorities, soon to be a majority of the population, have the opportunity and support they need to obtain STEM degrees in order for the U.S. to remain on the forefront of research and technology. This added diversity of ideas further propel the United States to achieve the goal that it has set for itself to become a leader in this expanding domain.

For graduate students and professors, this is an ideal time to conduct research on issues related to space, whether those issues are technical, legal, political or business-related. Each new effort plays a role in shaping national and international regulatory frameworks, as well as contributing to emerging national norms. Researchers should work to partner with those from differing fields, to work together to address new problems specific to space, and learn from one another to keep the dialogue forward moving.

This is an exciting time to be studying or working in areas related to space, regardless of whether you are a science or humanities major. The possibilities are endless.

About the Authors

Dr. Michelle Watts is a faculty director for American Public University System. In addition to supervising faculty members, she teaches courses on international relations, international development and Latin American Studies online. Michelle is an advisor to the Gamma Omega chapter of the Sigma Iota Rho international relations honor society. She has obtained several grants to conduct research in recent years, focusing on indigenous people.

Dr. Nicole Drumhiller is currently the Associate Dean of the School of Security and Global Studies at American Public University System. She is a certified Threat Manager with the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals and specializes in political psychology, security studies and international relations. Her research interests include group and leadership psychology and extremist behavior, as well as simulation and game-based learning in higher education. 

Wes O'Donnell

Wes O’Donnell is an Army and Air Force veteran and writer covering military and tech topics. As a sought-after professional speaker, Wes has presented at U.S. Air Force Academy, Fortune 500 companies, and TEDx, covering trending topics from data visualization to leadership and veterans’ advocacy. As a filmmaker, he directed the award-winning short film, “Memorial Day.”

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