[image-51][image-78][image-94][image-110]Name: Colleen Quinn-House
Title: Public Outreach Specialist for the James Webb Space Telescope
Organization: Code 443, the James Webb Space Telescope Project Office, Flight Projects Directorate
Public outreach specialist Colleen Quinn-House loves talking to the public, whether she is explaining fun facts about the Webb Telescope to the public or dressed as a clown, entertaining children at the White House Easter Egg Roll.
What do you do and what is most interesting about your role here at Goddard? How do you help support Goddard’s mission?
As a public outreach specialist for the Webb Telescope, I teach the public about the Webb in layman’s terms and get them excited about Webb’s capabilities. We developed fun facts about Webb. As examples, we tell them that the telescope is three stories high, as wide as a tennis court, larger than the rocket it is launching on, will fold up like an origami to launch and, once in space, will unfold like a transformer.
I LOVE talking to the public! Most people are already excited about NASA. About half know about Hubble, but have never heard of Webb. So I build from there explaining the differences between the two telescopes.
Who is your audience?
We talk to everybody including school children, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, college students, teachers, scientists, engineers and the general public. We set up our Webb outreach booth to support the Prince George’s County Career Fair, the University of Maryland’s Maryland Day, the U.S. Science and Engineering Festival, Space Day at the National Air and Space Museum and Goddard Explorer Day.
I am very passionate about relating to the public. I encourage all volunteers to stand in front of our table. Although not everyone wants to talk, we try to capture their attention for at least 30 seconds with some top-level, interesting facts. Sometimes they stay and ask questions and sometimes they take a sticker or a book mark and move on.
We can work at some outreach events for several days, with 8-10 hours per day. The largest crowd we spoke to was a two-and-one-half day event with a total of 115,000 people. Once we finish for the day, we are hoarse so I always have throat spray available at our booth.
Do you have any special visuals?
We have pieces of Webb hardware that the public can touch and hold. One really cool addition to our booth is our infrared camera. Everyone loves looking at themselves in the infrared. Some people use their phone camera to take a picture of their image in the infrared. We also have ice and heat to show how cold and heat are reflected in the infrared spectrum and then explain how all this relates to Webb. We usually have people standing in line waiting to draw ice mustaches on their faces to see what they look like.
How does it feel to be working for a Nobel laureate, Dr. John Mather?
We have the best team and Dr. Mather is the ultimate team player. He always makes time to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. He makes a point to speak to students about Webb. Time and time again, students have come up to me saying how special it was to have had a personal conversation with Dr. Mather.
How has your career evolved over your 40 years at Goddard?
I started with the federal government directly out of high school. I began working at Goddard during the day while I earned my college degree in psychology at night. After I got my degree, I did project support for facilities and later became a resource analyst for the Engineering Directorate and the Flights Project Directorate. I didn’t like working with numbers, so I switched to project support for Hubble and then later for Earth Sciences. Eleven years before I retired, I worked on bringing new business to Goddard. After 37 years, I retired but returned as a contractor for the Webb Telescope doing outreach.
What is the most important thing you have learned after all those years?
Network and volunteer for committees and join clubs. The more people you meet, the better it helps you grow and expand your knowledge. By getting to know people in other organizations both professionally and personally, you learn something new about yourself and others.
Is there something surprising about you, your hobbies, interests or activities outside of work that people do not generally know?
I was once a part-time, professional clown. I performed at the White House Easter Egg Roll and the Foreign Diplomatic Children’s Christmas Party. I met President Jimmy Carter, first lady Rosalyn Carter and their daughter Amy. After I had children, I no longer had the time to continue being a clown. But if anyone needs a good Halloween costume, just let me know.
Recently, I began volunteering for Frisky’s, a wildlife and primate sanctuary in Woodstock, Maryland. Frisky’s takes in orphaned or injured animals, rehabilitates them and, whenever possible, releases them back into the wild. We have fawns, groundhogs, squirrels, birds from hawks to eagles and even an alligator. We also have 22 monkeys who are permanent residents of the sanctuary. Since I just started, I clean the cages of the animals. I also got to help with the primates’ annual exam by holding the monkeys as they were waking up from the anesthesia. It was the coolest thing I have ever done.
Do you have a favorite way or place to kick back, relax or have fun?
I like to do crafts. During the summer, I collect crabs shells from all my friends. Then I clean them, paint them and turn them into holiday ornaments including a Santa Claus, a NASA crab and even a Webb Telescope crab. I sell my artwork at various craft fairs and church bazaars.
Also, my husband and two adult children love to travel and are very adventurous. We’ve been to Cancun, Riviera Maya, Cozumel, Puerto Vallarta and Punta Cana in Mexico, and to Germany and Austria. During our travels, we have skydived, taken a mile-long zip line through treetops, swam with whale sharks and snorkeled. We love roller coasters and amusements parks. To celebrate our 30-year anniversary, my husband and I are going on a 10-day safari to South Africa.
What is your “six-word memoir” describing your life? A six-word memoir describes something in just six words.
There’s no adventure I won’t try!