Hamburg area graduate prepares for aerospace career

Erika Minnich of Hamburg with Kutztown University professor Dr. Justin Smoyer. Minnich, who graduates June 7 from Commonwealth Charter Academy, plans to attend Kutztown University and pursue a career in the aerospace industry. She participated in an internship at KU while still completing her high school classes.
Erika Minnich of Hamburg with Kutztown University professor Dr. Justin Smoyer. Minnich, who graduates June 7 from Commonwealth Charter Academy, plans to attend Kutztown University and pursue a career in the aerospace industry. She participated in an internship at KU while still completing her high school classes. Submitted photo
The plane that Erika worked on during her internship at Kutztown University.
The plane that Erika worked on during her internship at Kutztown University. Submitted photo

Erika Minnich, 18, of Hamburg, Berks County, originally took interest in aerospace concepts while attending a Penn State University rocket science camp.

“I found all the math involved and engineering was very, very interesting,” she said. “I’ve always been a fan of planes. I’m a big fan of World War II aircraft. They’re incredible to look at.”

Minnich, who graduates June 7 from Commonwealth Charter Academy (CCA), a public cyber charter school, plans to attend Kutztown University and pursue a career in the aerospace industry. She discovered Kutztown University’s aerospace program while participating in an open house for the CCA’s STEM conservatory. Following the open house, Minnich sought out an internship at Kutztown University, an opportunity that she participated in while still completing her high school classes.

During her internship, Minnich helped assemble a prototyping lab, equipped with the tools to build models of complex concepts, and submitted an idea to build a fixed-wing, radio-controlled aircraft.

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“The professor let that be my thing,” she said. “I wrote the proposal for the head of the department to approve. I have no experience flying fixed-wing, radio-controlled aircraft. I got in contact with a local RC club and have been getting trained how to fly the airplanes.”

In addition to future innovations from NASA, Minnich is also interested in the way that private companies will impact the industry. “A lot of them are looking toward greener flight,” she said, noting that supersonic jets with increased fuel economy and 3-D printed rockets could could be part of the industry’s future.

“It would be huge if we could 3-D print the rockets. The precision that needs to be there for a rocket to launch is insane,” she said. “If that industry can take off, I think we can see a lot more in that area. Who knows? Maybe we could have another space race, like in the ‘60s.”

CCA’s online learning provided “a better understanding of technology than most other students get,” Minnich said, noting that her 10th grade geometry teacher’s attention to detail – from providing lesson packets, to sharing practical examples – left an impression on her.

“She showed us there’s a different way to do everything,” Minnich recalls. “There are so many different possibilities of how you can do one thing, which makes an impact on kids, especially with what I’m doing with engineering. I don’t think I would have had as good an understanding of geometry without her.”

Minnich enrolled at CCA when she was in elementary school, and the flexible format provided her with the opportunity to pursue a variety of interests, including dance, high school orchestra, world travel, mission work, and jobs, all while excelling in her academic work.

Minnich will participate in the CCA’s graduation ceremony in Lehighton, Pennsylvania on June 7, one of four ceremonies that the school holds across the state.