Questions about how to solve algebraic equations in Joy Aviles’ 9th and 10th grade math classes are morphing into conversations about how NASA uses algebra to launch vehicles into space.

That’s because students are excited their teacher will be watching NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN spacecraft, launch live to Mars from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Monday, Nov. 18.

Aviles is one of 20 local teachers and teachers-in-training who will get the chance to watch the launch and interact with the engineers and scientists who make space exploration possible. The special access is the result of the Lockheed Martin/University of Central Florida Academy for Mathematics and Science Program, a partnership between UCF and Lockheed Martin that’s supporting degree programs dedicated to improving math and science education.

Aviles is part of the program and teaches at East River High School in Bithlo, as part of her training. She’s scheduled to graduate from UCF next summer with a professional license in teaching mathematics and a Master’s of Arts in teaching.

“I’ve lived in Florida since I was 12 years old, so NASA has always been an icon to me. NASA is Florida,” said Aviles, who worked as an accountant before transitioning into teaching through the academy.

“My students are so excited that I’m doing this,” she said. “They’ve got tons of questions for me to get answered for them, and I’m really excited to get to experience a launch and then have a conversation with my students when I get back about what I saw and learned.”

The Lockheed Martin/UCF academy is training the next wave of science and math teachers through two master’s degree programs targeted at existing teachers and industry professionals interested in shifting into teaching.

The K-8 program targets teachers who want to strengthen the quality of their teaching and learning, while the Transition to Mathematics and Science Teaching program, or T-MAST, is for industry professionals who want put their knowledge to work in high-needs classrooms.

Each program has a different curriculum, but both serve to recruit the best teachers to become educational leaders in STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The academy was created 21 years ago with a $1 million grant from Lockheed Martin and the National Science Foundation. In 2004, a second gift of $500,000 with state matching funds was given to establish the T-MAST career-change program. In 2012, Lockheed Martin made a $500,000 gift to the academy to expand scholarship opportunities for students and provide enrichment programs for academy graduates.

More than 500 teachers have graduated from the academy, and they have gone on to reach more than 1 million children in Central Florida.

“Lockheed Martin understands and values the importance of providing training and resources to teachers so they are better equipped to teach the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians,” said Lockheed Martin Director of Community Relations Emily Simone. “We are proud to be a part of this program and excited to provide some real-world examples of science and math in action.”

Aviles and the other teachers who will be visiting Cape Canaveral are already pumping up their students and schools about the MAVEN launch. Many of the schools will allow students to watch the liftoff on NASA TV, and some of the teachers are incorporating their trip to the Cape into their curriculum through fun, educational projects.

Erin Wagganer, a spring 2013 graduate of the academy, teaches 4th grade math and science at Lawton Elementary School in Oviedo. She will be using educational curriculum from NASA and her firsthand experience at the MAVEN launch to teach her students about the thought process engineers use to do their jobs and career opportunities in that field.

“I hope students take away a love for science and a love for wanting to learn more,” said Wagganer. “With the NASA opportunity and with me going back to school to do my master’s, it shows them a love for learning and encourages them to go out there and discover. There’s always something out there that we can learn from.”

“As teachers, we’re in the classroom all the time, so being able to go out and learn more about math and science firsthand so that we can bring it back to our kids is a really neat experience for us,” she said.

To learn more about the Lockheed Martin/UCF Academy, visit