Beyond the crater; Middlesboro native says students should reach for the stars

Published 12:53 pm Thursday, February 23, 2023


Middlesboro native, aviator, entrepreneur and STEM advocate John Shoffner partnered with Middlesboro schools to help launch and promote a new education initiative for the district. As a STEM advocate, Shoffner recognizes the importance of tapping into the interests of students at an early age and identifies the STEM approach as a primary tool through which this can be achieved. He believes a STEM-based education is the best tool available to provide students with the skills necessary to achieve success in a global society. As such, the initiative found its start at Middlesboro Middle school where teachers have begun working with district Director of STEM Education Chris Stotts to learn and embed STEM-based principles into instruction and student experiences.

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Through his partnership and interactions with the school system, Shoffner hopes to empower educators to create opportunities and foster learning environments in which students can follow in his footsteps and pursue their core interests. Shoffner believes an awareness to this new age of space exploration can create a gateway leading to new careers and life opportunities for students.

Shoffner will serve as pilot for the Axiom Space Ax-2 mission to the International Space Station, which is set to launch this spring (a date has not been set). As part of his partnership with Middlesboro schools, Shoffner will take part in several radio and video engagement contacts between the ISS and students on ground. In the months leading up to the engagement, teachers will work to incorporate a range of space-related content that will link in-class instruction to the experiences Shoffner will encounter while on his mission.

Some student groups will discuss various principles and applications of aviation, aeronautics and aerospace and will connect these to real-world careers through interactions with Shoffner and other local partners. Some classes will study lunar and Martian habitats and the challenges related to sustainable living and survival in these conditions while others will study aerospace engineering and rocket design.

To celebrate Shoffner’s launch and mission aboard the ISS and to promote the engagement opportunities between students and astronauts during his mission, several art students from Middlesboro High School designed a logo that will be featured on patches for the astronauts space suits.

Under the direction of MHS art instructor Callie Boyd and Stotts, students Shelby Vaughn, Taylyn Ayers and Madilynn Jackson worked to produce the digital artwork that centers a yellow jacket in a space suit over a backdrop of space. The logo is flanked by the slogan, “Beyond the Crater.”

“I feel the slogan conveyed not only John Shoffner’s dream of one day reaching the stars,” said Stotts. “But also the vision he has for the students in Middlesboro as they couple their own aspirations with a strong educational foundation grounded in a STEM-based approach.”