Two Woodland High School students selected to take part in Western Aerospace Scholars program and help design a mission to Mars

Based in Seattle, the Museum of Flight in Seattle offers the Western Aerospace Scholars program as an online distance learning course

The Museum of Flight’s Western Aerospace Scholars (WAS) program selected two Woodland High School juniors, Casey Logan and Bella Mattison, to attend its summer phase where student teams from across the Pacific Northwest cooperate to plan a mission to Mars along with professional engineers, scientists, and educators from Boeing, NASA, and other aerospace organizations.

Based in Seattle, the Museum of Flight in Seattle offers the Western Aerospace Scholars (WAS) program as an online distance learning course combined with a summer experience designed for high school students interested in pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) career paths. During its first phase, 300 students from Montana, Oregon and Washington take part in an online college curriculum developed by the University of Washington focusing on NASA’s space exploration program including topics in Earth and Space Science, and each student can earn five college credits upon successful completion of the course.

Pictured here (from left): Ruby Heidgerken (senior), Bella Mattison (junior), Casey Logan (junior, via Google Meets), and teacher Elizabeth Talvitie. Photo courtesy of Woodland School District
Pictured here (from left): Ruby Heidgerken (senior), Bella Mattison (junior), Casey Logan (junior, via Google Meets), and teacher Elizabeth Talvitie. Photo courtesy of Woodland School District

The program’s second phase takes place during the summer where, pandemic-permitting, four teams of students are selected to travel to Seattle where they tour the Boeing factory floor, visit the particle accelerator at the University of Washington, and work to develop a mission to Mars, selecting from actual NASA equipment to design space vehicles, rovers, habitats and solve complex real-life problems astronauts might encounter during space travel. Elizabeth Talvitie, a science teacher at Woodland High School, identifies and encourages students to take part in this innovative program, “Western Aerospace Scholars offers such a great opportunity for students to truly engage with astronomy while also earning college credit while still in high school.”

Casey Logan and Bella Mattison started participating in WAS as part of its sophomore program where students receive a few units of material from the online course to get a jumpstart on the material. “Each week, we received an essay prompt with a different prompt involving the trip to Mars and related subjects,” explained Casey. “We had to calculate how much oxygen a team would need, how a team would grow food, and also solved other issues that an astronaut team might face during the trip.”

Bella took part in the summer program during her sophomore year which was held completely online due to the pandemic. “We received materials in the mail to work on projects with our team through Zoom,” she said. “I really enjoyed the summer program, although it was incredibly intense with entire days spent on Zoom.”

Casey developed a love for science and math at a young age thanks to her father, an engineer. “My dad worked at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) for NASA in California and encouraged me to take science and math classes throughout school,” she said. “During my freshman year, I took Ms. Talvitie’s astronomy course and it is still my favorite class.”

For Bella, her interest in space stemmed from a famous science fiction movie, Star Wars, and she credits her teachers throughout her academic career for encouraging her to take advanced math and science courses at Clark College through the Running Start program where she found her Woodland teachers have given her a strong foundation in the fundamentals. “I took biology my freshman year and enjoyed it so much that I wanted to work ahead, taking college biology classes at Clark where I realized I already understood many of the concepts before the professor presented them,” she said. “When you have good teachers like those I’ve had at Woodland, everything becomes more enjoyable and easier to understand.”

Ruby Heidgerken, a senior, took part in 2020’s WAS program, and, like Casey, grew up in a family who encouraged scientific interest. “My family would drag sleeping bags outside whenever there was a meteor shower and we would try to count all the shooting stars we saw,” she said. “Ever since I was little, I was fascinated with science and being good with math meant the concepts all fit together for me.”

Ruby also credits her Woodland teachers for encouraging her to advance her learning, pointing to the way the district’s teachers collaborate to develop integrated lessons across subjects as making for more effective learning. “The way Woodland teachers explain material really helps thanks to how small and tight-knit the community is,” she said. “The teachers know what their colleagues are teaching and coordinate lessons so there’s direct application of concepts in different classes.”

Throughout their experiences in school, all three students feel teachers encourage girls and minorities now more than ever to take part in math and science. Bella offers advice to classmates who might struggle initially with STEM courses, “Give yourself a chance to try things and find the subjects you enjoy,” she said. “Everyone is smart at something; it’s a matter of finding what you’re smart at and not being scared to make a mistake if you don’t understand something right away.”

Ruby recommends classmates who feel they cannot succeed in a subject to try taking the same course from a different teacher. “I think you can end up with a teacher whose approach might not work for you,” she said. “However, the three of us have been lucky to get teachers who really worked well with us and work well with each other, too.”

Learn more about the Western Aerospace Scholars program:

Since 2006, over 1790 students have successfully completed the Museum of Flight’s Western Aerospace Scholars program and 67 percent reported reported being in a STEM career pathway. Graduates of the WAS program can access an alumni network of over 1,600 students who attend top colleges and military academies throughout the United States as well as professionals who work at STEM companies including Boeing, Microsoft, SpaceX, Facebook and NASA. To learn more, visit the WAS webpage on the Museum of Flight’s website at:

Learn more about how Woodland Public Schools educates our students and serves the community, by visiting the dedicated news webpage at

Information provided by Woodland School District.

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