Grantee Spotlight: Q&A with the AMA on Flight Kits Set to Enhance STEAM Education in Muncie

Flight kids being dispersed at Boys and Girls Club of Muncie. Photo providedFlight kids being dispersed at Boys and Girls Club of Muncie. Photo provided

By Jud Fisher—

MUNCIE, IN—Located on the southeast side of Muncie, the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) stands on over 1,000 acres of land and is home to the largest model aviation field in the world. Having moved to Muncie in the 1990s, the AMA’s international headquarters and museum are now home to dozens of events each year from model aviation flying days that draw hobbyists from across the country to rocket launches, kite festivals, drone competitions, remote control helicopter events, and more. As the world’s largest model aviation association, the AMA brings together over 160,000 members nationwide who have a passion for designing, building, and flying model aircrafts of all sizes for fun and competition.

In 2023, Ball Brothers Foundation awarded a grant to the AMA to provide flight kits to local K-8 students to give them hands-on exposure to aviation, modeling, engineering, and more. Recognizing that the AMA is a unique cultural and educational asset, the foundation’s grant was designed both to directly benefit local students while also helping the AMA build stronger, on-going connections with local youth-serving organizations.

In a recent sit-down interview, BBF spoke with Gwen Mathis, one of AMA’s Education Development Coordinators, as she discussed the impact of flight kits and STEAM opportunities for students in Muncie.

Q: What is modeling?

Modeling encompasses both a beloved hobby and a competitive sport involving the design and flying of air vehicles known as models. Although modeling may be an unfamiliar sport to most, it has been around for over 100 years. And exactly 100 years ago, a group of model aviation enthusiasts gathered for an event that has now become known as the National Aeromodelling Championships (NATS). Today, the NATS brings hundreds of modelers to Muncie each summer for the big event.

Numerous AMA members, including renowned astronauts Neil Armstrong and Hoot Gibson, attribute their career success to their modeling experiences. They emphasize that the invaluable skills and experience acquired through practicing aviation activities inspired them to pursue their passion.

Q: How has the AMA identified modeling as a benefit to youth education?

Statistically, Muncie’s K-8 education performance falls below the state average in most Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) categories. Through our flight kits, we aim to bridge this gap by providing hands-on educational experiences accessible to all students. By engaging youth in model aviation, they can develop a passion for STEAM subjects, develop crucial competencies, and feel more prepared for technical careers.

“STEAM isn’t as scary as students might believe. Introducing aerodynamics and aviation in a creative, hands-on way opens doors for students, showing them that their passions can lead to exciting opportunities beyond their imagination.” – Gwen Mathis, Education Development Coordinator, AMA

Q: What is the purpose of the flight kits?

The flights kits originated during AMA’s Jr. Camp initiative, a virtual camp experience designed to be a fun, preparatory course for youth ages 5-12 to learn model aviation fundamentals. These kits aim to expand outreach to local youth, providing them with educational experiences that make learning STEAM concepts fun and engaging.

Q: What is included in the flight kits?

We have two kits, each teaching aerodynamic concepts through various flight-related projects and experiments. Both kits come with all necessary materials and step-by-step instructions, plus online access to additional resources and interviews with world-class aviation professionals.

Each kit contains the following:

Kit #1 is focused on experiments applying STEAM concepts to modeling. Arrowhead is a paper airplane and a Free Flight model (a model that once launched in the air you have no control over). Other projects included in Kit #1 include:

  • Arrowhead
  • Big Bag of Air
  • Ingenuity Rotorcraft
  • Power-Up Paper Planes
  • Air, Fluids & Density

Kit #2 focuses more on building and designing different models. The AMA Beta, also a Free Flight Model,.has no engine and the modeler controls it using the elevators before launch. Other projects included in Kit #2 are:

  • T-Plane
  • Catapult Glider
  • Bernoulli Airfoil
  • Rotorcraft
  • Hovercraft
  • AMA Beta Free Flight Model

Q: How and when do you plan to launch the flight kits?

We’re currently distributing 400 flight kits to organizations in Muncie, with a focus on serving traditionally underserved populations. Partnerships with institutions like Madjax, Boys & Girls Clubs of Muncie, and Muncie Public Library will facilitate widespread access to these educational resources. The goal is to establish collaborations to sustain educational initiatives beyond the initial distribution phase. Each organization will be distributing the kits differently based on the needs of the students they serve.

Kit distribution plans:

  • Kit #1 will be distributed to: Madjax, FISH Homeschool, and YMCA.
  • Kit #2 will be distributed to: Minnetrista, Boys & Girls Clubs of Muncie, FISH Homeschool and Muncie Public Library.

Q: What is AMA most excited about for these kits?

We are excited to offer students dynamic, hands-on experiences that transcend standard learning methods. These flight kits not only engage students in kinesthetic learning, they also ignite curiosity and creativity, making STEAM education more accessible and enjoyable.

We are also thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with the local community to address needs and form lasting partnerships for support beyond this project. The AMA is committed to nurturing a passion for learning and exploration among Muncie’s youth.


About Ball Brothers Foundation

Ball Brothers Foundation is one of the state’s oldest and largest family foundations. In 2023, the foundation paid out $8.8 million in grants to support place-based initiatives related to arts and culture, education, the environment, health, human services, and public affairs. The Muncie-based private foundation gives priority to projects and programs that improve the quality of life in the foundation’s home city, county, and state.