Instructor Randi Dotter demonstrates an ancient cryptography device, a scytale, to students at the Salida Airport Terminal last week. Photo by Dan Smith.

About 18 home-schooled students explored secret messages and codes last week as part of an educational enterprise held at the Salida Airport, Harriet Alexander Field. The enterprise arrangement allows them access to innovative Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) classes.

The students, part of the Falcon AeroLab STEM effort, were able to learn about cryptography and coding messages in the terminal at Harriet Alexander Field, through a cooperative effort by AeroLab part-time instructor Randi Dotter, and the airport manager, Zech Papp.

The students were focused on constructing and trying out cryptographic devices; constructing alphabet substitution wheels and the ancient scytale, whose message, written on a length of leather or parchment wound around a rod, could only be read by the recipient with an identical diameter rod.

Dotter explained that the AeroLab system, which began at Falon Airport in Colorado Springs, seeks to prepare students in an alternative education program. It introducing them to Colorado jobs and careers, primarily the aerospace industry, through project-based experiential education opportunities.

These secondary level students, here and elsewhere in the state, have opportunities to learn through weekly program experiences with AeroLab.

In Salida, the airport sessions have included learning about a wide range of aviation-related career paths. They include aviation, rocketry and space, physics and chemistry, robotics, material science, design and making of polymers and other subjects. Future classes will explore the physiology of space suits; living in space: hydro and aeroponics, food and nutrition; challenges of the next trip to the moon and building a Mars Rover.

Dotter, a teacher at Cotopaxi Consolidated Schools in Fremont County since 2007, has an extensive educational background as well as a lengthy resumé in military aviation. Following graduation from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs with a degree in chemistry, he completed a masters degree from the University of California, Davis UC Davis, she took pilot training and became a pilot for KC-135 aircraft, serving in the Mideast Desert Storm conflict as well as Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.

Instructor Randi Dotter demonstrates an ancient crytography device, a scytale, to students at the Salida Airport Terminal last week.

More recently she has taught chemistry and physics at Pueblo Community College and performed numerous extracurricular instruction duties.

Her awards include a national award for Space Science Teacher of the Year from the Challenger Center for Space Science in 2012 and 2015, and was Teacher of the Year for the Colorado Springs Challenger Learning Center in those years as well. She was named 2015 State of Colorado Air Force Association Teacher of the Year in 2015 and won the Sanford Teacher Award, National University System in 2018.

“My passion is teaching and my goals are to help each student discover their own unique talents and achieve their highest potential by inspiring, engaging, authentic and hands-on learning experiences,” said Dotter.

She also credits Papp for helping establish the monthly educational sessions at the Salida Airport Terminal.