2009 NASA Einstein Fellow Kristen Ann Edwards
Kristen Ann Edwards

Kristen Ann Edwards spent a year supporting the Office of Education at NASA Headquarters as a participant in the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program. Image Credit: Kristen Ann Edwards

Each year, the federal government invites a small group of educators to leave the classroom temporarily and work among the nation's policymakers to build a bridge of cooperation between them and the science, mathematics and technology education community.

These educators are part of the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program. NASA Einstein Fellows make an impact on the direction and future of NASA education initiatives by supporting a variety of education efforts both in the mission directorates and agencywide. The fellowships also affect the direction and the future of the educators who participate.

During her year as a NASA Einstein Fellow, Kristen Ann Edwards sought to represent those who teach in rural, economically depressed regions and to share her passion for ensuring access to excellent education for all students.

Describe your teaching experience before becoming an Einstein Fellow.

I joined Teach for America in 2000 and was assigned to the Mississippi Delta region. I spent nine years teaching science at Lee High School in Marianna, Ark., first as the science laboratory coordinator (designing and implementing hands-on laboratory activities for every science class in the school), then as a biology, pre-advanced placement biology, advanced placement biology, and human anatomy and physiology instructor. I also coached, co-coached, and sponsored numerous activities, including National Honor Society, National Beta Club, Quiz Bowl, and Trojans Against Destructive Decisions (our school's Safe and Drug-Free Schools club), and taught in our school's extended-day recovery and remediation and summer school programs.

Why did the Einstein Fellow Program appeal to you?

I wanted to become an Einstein Fellow for a number of reasons. Two of the most important reasons were to increase my knowledge and bring further awareness of issues in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, and to bring the perspective and concerns of my community and school district to the national level. My school is located in a rural, severely economically depressed region -- nearly 100 percent of our students qualify for free or reduced lunches -- and it has been my experience that schools like mine are not well-represented at the national level.

Kristen Ann Edwards wearing a white spacesuit

Kristen Ann Edwards tried on a mock-up of an extravehicular activity, or EVA, spacesuit during a Disability Awareness Day event at NASA Headquarters. Image Credit: Kristen Ann Edwards

What is your assignment while an Einstein Fellow at NASA?

I am assigned to the Office of Education at NASA Headquarters. I have participated in inter- and intra-agency meetings, contributed my "teacher's perspective" to educational materials and contests, written to students and teachers who are seeking information about NASA programs and opportunities, and worked on planning an upcoming meeting of informal educators. Through my fellowship, I also attend workshops, seminars, and symposia related to formal and informal science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education.

What do you foresee to be your major accomplishment(s) during your fellowship?

I am currently assisting in the planning of the education launch conference for STS-131; I am particularly excited about being part of this event because one of the astronauts, Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, is part of the Educator Astronaut Program. In October, I traveled to Florida with Joyce Winterton, NASA's associate administrator for Education, and other NASA staff to support our education event celebrating Buzz Lightyear's return from the International Space Station. I was also involved in supporting Disabilities Mentoring Day, through which we brought students from the Maryland School for the Blind to Headquarters to learn about careers at NASA; it was an incredible experience! As a life scientist by training, I am also hoping to work with the NASA visitor centers to create an education program (tentatively called "Nature at NASA") based on the diverse ecology of their locations.

What are your plans for after the fellowship?

Before I arrived in D.C., I couldn't imagine a career outside the classroom. As my fellowship has progressed, I have become increasingly aware of the role that informal science education plays in fostering engagement and interest in STEM courses and careers, and have grown increasingly concerned that the voice of rural teachers and schools is not adequately represented at the national level. Like many of my predecessors, I can envision myself going back to school to pursue an advanced degree in education policy or a related topic.

How has participating in the Einstein Fellowship Program impacted you as an educator?

As a classroom teacher, I was not aware of the number and scope of the resources NASA provides for K-16 (kindergarten through university) STEM educators. I have gained a new perspective of the challenges -- and vital importance -- of providing quality STEM education to all students; it is an urgent nationwide issue that needs increased attention and collaboration at the national level. Being involved in the design and implementation of a student contest (Kids in Micro-g) gave me a real appreciation for the amount of time and effort that goes into creating authentic, unique, hands-on experiences for students on a national scale. I have also had the opportunity to interact with people, both at NASA and at other agencies/organizations, who share my concerns about and enthusiasm for ensuring that all students have access to the excellent education that they need and deserve.

Related Resources
NASA Einstein Fellows: Where Are They Now?
Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program   →
NASA Education
Kids in Micro-g Challenge
NASA Educational Materials

Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services