Most students have at least one teacher throughout their educational experience worthy of the label “out of this world.” Troy alumnus Tony Fluery is a physics teacher that fits the description — in the most literal sense of the phrase.
While Fluery spends most of his time educating 11th and 12th grade students on the ins and outs of physics from a classroom in Luzerne County, he has used his summers to hang up his tie and expand his own knowledge by exploring space through workshops with NASA and similar organizations.
After graduating from Troy High School, Fluery attended Lock Haven University where he obtained a degree in secondary education and physics. He shared that growing up in a location as small as Bradford County (especially when viewed from outside the Earth’s atmosphere), however, has not hindered him, but added to his “let nothing (including gravity) hold me back” perspective.
What started when he was a youth as an interest in all things space, grew to be reality as Fluery began to frequent summer programs tailored for educators at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Langley Research Center in Virginia.
His first opportunity to dive into atmospheric science practically came in the late 1990s when he attended a space workshop for teachers, he told, dubbing it “an amazing experience.” Fluery relayed that he uses his encounters as material to teach his students using real life examples.
Fluery shared that his own time learning about space has equipped him with stories that students love to hear, about science tasks they are being educated on.
“There’s nothing kids love more than that,” he commented about hands-on experience he can now offer as opposed to text book-only teaching.
One of the many unique adventures Fluery has lived out at space camps includes the opportunity to fly in a zero gravity aircraft that imitates conditions astronauts encounter.
In October of 2009, he stated, he was able to spend two hours floating in the zero gravity facility. Fluery described that being in the machine felt slightly like going over a bump in a vehicle, but elongated as the plane would fly up and then dive, suspending occupants for around 30 seconds at a time.
In addition to space workshops, Fluery spent three summers working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee as an engineer and scientist acquiring knowledge he now implements into his classroom lesson plans.
Putting his passions of space, education and engineering to good use, Fluery has partnered with a friend and pioneered a business with the intent to make it more accessible for students to send science projects to space.
Fluery’s organization called the “Arete STEM Project” has invented boxes students can enclose projects in to send to space and learn through hands-on experience how the differences in heat, radiation and other factors impact them. Some projects have included sending seeds and fireflies into space to monitor the effects, acknowledged Fluery.
Arete STEM Project works with various companies to purchase room on space flights for these boxes and is continuing their work to make sending student projects to space affordable.
“That opens up the door for I think a really exciting time,” he said of a wider accessibility to space, “because now it’s not just the domain of the government any more.”
Fluery commented that he believes a majority of students are interested in space when they’re young, but that making the exploration of it more possible to them may offer the kind of real life connection that will maintain and develop curiosity as they grow.
While his passion for nurturing a younger generation’s enthusiasm for space and science is evident, Fluery concluded by divulging a possibility that in the future he will retire from teaching in favor of “blasting off” into a second career of engineering.
As he continues to delve into new areas, and potentially atmospheres, Fluery tips his hat to Troy for giving him a foundation that encouraged him to “shoot for the stars.”
“Coming from a small community really allows for an individual to be a dreamer and without all the distractions of a much busier lifestyle … you get a chance to just kind of dream and explore on your own and find your own path,” he declared.
Update: In the Sunday, January 21 edition of The Daily Review it was stated that Anthony Fluery's organization is named Edge of Space. This however is incorrect as Fluery's organization is called the Arete STEM Project. Edge of Space is a separate company. The Review regrets the error.