Teachers Educating NASA
Education is an integral component to everything NASA does, and one of its most important goals is inspiring the future workforce that will carry on the agency's mission. Perhaps the most essential elements involved in working toward that goal are the nation's educators, who are on the front line of preparing today's students to become tomorrow's explorers.
To help teachers in that effort, NASA works to provide resources to excite students about science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And to find out how best to provide those resources, NASA turns to those who know what educators need -- the educators themselves. The agency uses a variety of means to solicit input and participation from teachers in planning and improving education projects, ranging from short-term involvement like a one-day workshop to engagements that are much larger in scope.
Image to right: Erin Peters (sitting) and Liz Burck are classroom teachers who are spending the year working at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Credit: NASA
Liz Burck and Erin Peters are two teachers who are currently making a long-term contribution to helping NASA connect to the classroom. Burck and Peters are spending a year at NASA Headquarters on an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship. The fellowships are administered through the Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Energy. Through the project, selected teachers spend a school year working with federal agencies, including NASA. The goal of the project is to give educators a chance to provide practical insights and real-world perspectives to policy makers and program managers, and to give those teachers a new understanding of national education issues. Einstein Fellows receive a monthly stipend, as well as travel and moving expenses.
Both of the teachers said they found out about the Einstein Fellowship program through colleagues. After the two applied, the participating agencies reviewed the information of all the applicants and offered fellowship positions to the candidates who interested them. "When NASA offered, I unhesitatingly jumped on this opportunity," Burck said.
Burck, a high school teacher from Kenai, Alaska, is working with the Earth Science Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Since beginning her teaching career at a middle school in Ohio, Burck has taught for 25 years in Kenai, where she has also served intermittently as a college instructor.
"Leaving the classroom behind for the headquarters office of a premier governmental agency has been exciting, yet challenging," Burck said. "Fortunately, working in the Earth Science Education Division has allowed me to continue my work in education, albeit from a different perspective. The educational goals of science teachers and of NASA are the same -- to strengthen science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in this country. My host, Ming-Ying Wei, has pushed me to become involved on many levels -- sharing my classroom knowledge, skills and experiences. During these first few months I have contributed to reports, made presentations and participated in interagency programs related to the International Polar Year."
Burck said that she hopes to come away from the experience with a high degree of personal and professional growth, and a better understanding of educational issues on a national level. "I hope to be better prepared to make further contributions to education, at some level," she said. "I want to look back on this year as a pivotal transition from my years as a public school teacher to those years that I will dedicate to my next career."
Peters, a science teacher from Arlington, Va., is working with the education office of NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. During her 15-year career as an educator, she has taught high school and middle school mathematics and science in Illinois and Virginia.
So far, Peters said that her fellowship with ESMD has been a wonderful opportunity for further development related to NASA's core areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. "I've been able to attend cutting-edge forums on STEM education, participate in developing national K-12 engineering standards, and work firsthand on managing a portfolio of engineering education programs," she said. "I very much enjoy working with [ESMD education team members] Patty Currier and Jerry Hartman because they are actively extending me opportunities to advance my skills. I'd say this has been a very rich experience, and I look forward to additional professional development in the future."
Like Burck, Peters said that she hopes to come away from the fellowship with a broader view of educational issues, and prepared for the next phase of her career.
"I would like to gain exposure and develop an understanding of how educational programs are managed at a national level," she said. "My position in ESMD education has given me an opportunity to be directly involved in this endeavor. I plan on transitioning to the university level to become a teacher educator in a few years, so any exposure that goes beyond my classroom helps me to prepare future teachers in STEM education."
Through its participation in the Einstein fellowships, NASA continues its tradition of investing in the nation's education. It is directly tied to the agency's major education goal of attracting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. To compete effectively for the minds, imaginations and career ambitions of America's young people, NASA is focused on engaging and retaining students in education efforts that encourage their pursuit of disciplines critical to NASA's future engineering, scientific and technical missions.
David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services