2006 NASA Einstein Fellow Liz Burck
Erin Peters and Liz Burck at a desk

Liz Burck (standing) was a 2006 Einstein Fellow at NASA Headquarters and is now the agency's Einstein Fellowship Program Manager. Image Credit: NASA

Describe your teaching experience before becoming an Einstein Fellow.

Prior to becoming an Einstein Fellow in the fall of 2006, I spent 27 years as a classroom teacher. I began my teaching career in Ohio as a middle school life science teacher. After moving to Alaska in 1980, I taught high school biology, Biology II, Earth science and integrated science. While in Alaska, I also taught biology and the science teaching methods course at the local community college (a branch of the University of Alaska).

Why did the Einstein Fellow Program appeal to you?

The Einstein Fellow Program appealed to me because it provided a venue to extend my passion for education beyond my classroom. It gave me a chance to step outside my comfort zone and get involved on the national level. My goal was twofold: to learn more about national education issues, and to make a contribution, however minor, to education on the national level.

What was your assignment while an Einstein Fellow at NASA?

I served my 11-month fellowship in the Science Mission Directorate's Earth Science Division under the mentorship of Dr. Ming Ying Wei.

What were your major accomplishment(s) during your fellowship?

I was fortunate to be at NASA for the beginning of the International Polar Year. My major accomplishment was a collaborative project related to that event. I worked with three other Einstein Fellows -- two from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and one from NSF (National Science Foundation) -- to compile a CD of teacher resources related to IPY. Incorporating information, pictures, activities and handouts from the three agencies, the CD was disseminated at presentations we conducted at National Association of Science Teachers conferences in Salt Lake City and St. Louis.

What have you done since your fellowship, and what are you doing now?

My fellowship ended on July 31, 2007; within a month, I was employed as the program manager for the Einstein Fellowship Program. I now oversee the program. In this managerial position, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to continue working with NASA Headquarters personnel.

How did participating in the Einstein Fellowship Program impact you as an educator?

I chose to remain in Washington, D.C., in another job and therefore did not return to the classroom. My job as the Einstein Fellowship Program Manager allows me to provide an 11-month "professional development opportunity" for some of the finest educators from across the United States! Consequently, I use my experience as an Einstein Fellow to impact other educators in their role as Fellows, whether at NASA or the other federal agencies.

What legacy or impact did you leave behind at NASA?

I would certainly not presume that anything I might have left behind at NASA would be a legacy – or have impact. I had the unbelievable opportunity to walk into NASA Headquarters each day and interact with incredible people doing incredible things. The impact NASA left on me is far greater than anything that I could have left at NASA.

How does NASA benefit from the Einstein Fellowship Program?

NASA benefits in numerous ways from their involvement in the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program. The most obvious benefit is the mere presence of the Fellow; having an accomplished classroom teacher embedded in NASA Headquarters allows immediate access to the needs, trends, standards, practices and realities of American education. An Einstein Fellow provides valuable insights into classroom realities that can inform NASA education efforts; they provide instant feedback during conceptualization, evaluation and implementation of educational projects.

The Fellows bring to NASA several other benefits. For example, they bring the educational expertise to complement the content expertise of NASA supervisors. They also provide insights into the effective integration of NASA programs and projects into both formal and informal settings. NASA can benefit from the Fellow's network of professional contacts by tapping it for recruitment of reviewers and panelists. The ability to interpret not only the language of education but also national, state and local educational legislation is another significant contribution.

How do teachers and ultimately students benefit from teachers' fellowships at NASA?

The benefits to the teacher who serves his or her fellowship at NASA, while to some degree dependent on the initiative of the Fellow, are immeasurable. Spending a school year immersed in the offices of NASA offers unique opportunities to enhance teacher quality through the attainment of new knowledge, skills and resources. NASA-based Fellows return to the classroom having personal familiarity with the work of world-renowned experts in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. That familiarity provides not only the knowledge, but also the confidence to share the excitement about the work being done by NASA. In addition, teachers take back a new awareness -- and, in many cases, a new supply -- of NASA classroom resources. Equally valuable, they return with a wealth of student and teacher opportunities, including NASA courses, programs, competitions, awards, grants, career options, etc.

Related Resources
Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program   →
NASA Education
NASA Science Mission Directorate   →
Teachers Educating NASA
From Alaska to Antarctica

Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services