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Valerie Casasanto - Inspires and Engages Children About the Earth
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Valerie Casasanto, the principal investigator for the Beautiful Earth program, bridges science, music and visual art to inspire and engage children about Earth.

Name: Valerie Casasanto
Title: Principal Investigator, Beautiful Earth Program: Experiencing and Learning Science in a New, Engaging Way
Formal Job Classification: Program Coordinator, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Organization: Code 610, Earth Sciences Division, Sciences and Exploration Directorate

What do you do and what is most interesting about your role here at Goddard? How do you help support Goddard’s mission?

Half of my job is running the Beautiful Earth program, including managing the program. Beautiful Earth is a STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] education outreach program sponsored by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate to inspire and engage students and their parents about Earth science through a combination of science, music and visual art. We hope to teach them more about our home planet and what NASA does in the Earth sciences. Our program includes a live concert against a background of the Earth viewed from space by our satellites, scientific speakers offering traditional and Native American perspectives and hands-on experiments to deepen the learning experience.

I coordinate these live programs in partnership with five museums across the United States, including the Milton J. Rubenstein Science and Technology Museum in Syracuse, N.Y.; the Denver Museum of Nature & Science in Colorado; the Museum of Natural History in
Photo of Valerie Casasanto› Larger image
Photo of Valerie Casasanto. Photo courtesy of V. Casasanto
Providence, R.I.; the Laredo Planetarium in Texas; and our Goddard Visitor Center here in Greenbelt, Md. In addition, we conduct live video-conferencing events through Goddard’s Digital Learning Network, which is viewed in schools throughout the United States.

The other part of my job involves running the education and public outreach of the upcoming Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 mission, which will be launched in 2016. The ICESat-2 satellite will have a green laser to measure the height of the Earth including ice, tree cover and clouds. I also manage the Goddard Office for UMBC’s Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology and the Goddard Planetary Heliophysics Institute.

It takes a lot of teamwork to get the job done because we have so many players involved. I try to make everyone feel equally important and include them on all major decisions by listening to their viewpoints.

Who is the most interesting, inspiring or amazing person you have met or worked with at Goddard?

Dr. Nancy Maynard is a true inspiration! She is an Earth scientist and works with indigenous reindeer herders in the Arctic to bring together NASA data and indigenous data and knowledge to improve health and environmental issues. Dr. Maynard organized the Native Peoples Native Homelands Workshops, which brought together NASA and Native American experts to discuss the effects of climate change on indigenous people.

[To read more about Nancy Maynard, go here:]
Valerie Casasanto greets students for Beautiful Earth Day event.› Larger image
Valerie Casasanto greets students for Beautiful Earth Day event. Photo courtesy V. Casasanto

What was your best day or the best thing that ever happened to you at Goddard?

In the fall of 2007, I met Kenji Williams at a Goddard Education Colloquium in which he performed his Bella Gaia show in which he plays his compositions for the violin against a backdrop of Earth science imagery. I thought it was so beautiful and inspiring! The performance combined all of my interests – Earth, space, music and art. I introduced myself to Kenji and we began working together. We have done several events for Goddard including the NASA booth at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in July 2008. This meeting led to the Beautiful Earth education program that I am now running.

What makes Goddard a great place to work?

There are so many opportunities to learn about all areas of space and to meet people of diverse backgrounds and expertise. We have a beautiful, collegiate campus with lots of nature, including wildlife. Goddard’s campus has a pond and large areas of forested areas making it a much needed refuge for wildlife.

Do you have a favorite book, magazine, movie or TV show?

My favorite movie is “La Belle et la Bête” [“Beauty and the Beast”] by Jean Cocteau. It is an old movie that is very artistic and beautiful.

Is there someplace in the world that you want to visit or someplace you have been and want to go back?

In college I spent my junior year abroad in France. I attended the International Space University in Strasbourg, France, and then ran their summer programs for several years. I also lived in Paris, where I interned in a French space technology company. I would love to return to both cities. I love the tarte flambée [a regional cheese and onion pastry] and eating warm baguettes from the corner bakery.

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