Marshall Space Flight Center, Ala.
Oct. 7, 2004
NASA Education Officer Inspires Next Generation of Explorers
Alicia Beam's job at NASA is all about students. Beam is an education officer for K-12 programs in the Academic Affairs Department at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), Huntsville, Ala.
She spends a typical workday on the phone or exchanging e-mails with high school teachers across the country about programs that help put NASA science and math materials into classrooms. For Beam, a 21-year NASA veteran, her message of hard work and determination is not just words. It is also about how she has lived her life.
She grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant. Beam graduated from high school in 1963, but there was little money for college tuition. So she went to work, saving enough money to take one semester of classes at nearby Del Mar College. At the end of the semester, she returned to work, saving until she could afford another semester. Beam followed this formula for 22 years.
"It was a long process, but I knew I wanted to go to school, and that's what it was going to take," said Beam, the mother of five and grandmother of six. "It might have taken longer than normal, but it helped me appreciate the things I was learning, and the experiences I had."
Beam moved to Huntsville in 1976. She enrolled at Athens State University in Athens, Ala., in 1982 to continue work on her bachelor's degree. She was accepted in the MSFC Cooperative Education Program in 1983. It allowed her to attend classes and work at MSFC.
"Those years were a real balancing act with work, school and raising a family. All three were important, and I knew I wanted each as a part of my life," Beam said.
She graduated from Athens State in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in business administration and was hired full-time as a budget analyst in MSFC's Information Systems Office. In 1999 Beam joined the MSFC Education Programs Department.
Today, as a pre-college officer, Beam manages a number of NASA education programs. She is responsible for NASA's Engineering Design Challenge, an annual contest that challenges middle and high school students to design and build a piece of hardware to specifications created by agency engineers.
She is responsible for NASA's Explorer Schools Program, one of NASA's pathfinder programs. NASA centers provide funds and materials to educators and students in lower-income schools across the country to encourage science and technology studies.
Beam also manages the NASA Educator Resource Centers (ERC) in Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri and Iowa. Supported by MSFC, the resource centers provide materials and curriculums to teachers and schools in each state.
During her long career with NASA, Beam has been honored for her work on a variety of education programs. She's received 14 NASA Group Achievement awards, three Certificates of Appreciation, two Outstanding Performance awards. She was a 1998 Space Flight Awareness honoree, traveling to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to witness the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour. Yet, Beam's real joy comes from talking with students, especially those who share her Hispanic heritage.
"Many of the students I work with come from the same background as I do. I tell them all to study hard, stay in school, and maybe one day they can work for an organization like NASA," Beam said. "I tell them if I can do it, with a little hard work and determination, they can as well."
Media organizations interested in interviewing Beam should contact Martin Jensen at the MSFC Office of Public Affairs, at: 256/544-0034.
For information about NASA's Explorer School program, visit:
For information about NASA and agency programs on the Internet, visit:
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