September 19, 2005
Inspired by the power of teaching, a handful of volunteers from NASA's Solar System Ambassadors program have left behind their careers in science and technology to make their mark as educators.
The Ambassador program, managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., consists of citizens from across the country with an interest in teaching the public about space and the solar system. While the Solar System Ambassadors strive to educate audiences of all ages, many particularly enjoy bringing their activities to the classroom.
Grace Chen, a former engineer from Camarillo, Calif., who specialized in producing solar cells for spacecraft, said her experience as an ambassador motivated her to make the switch into teaching.
"Being part of space exploration and sharing its excitement has been the most rewarding experience of my life," she said.
The key, according to Chen, is enthusiasm. "I have learned from being an ambassador that being enthusiastic about the topic is one of the main reasons why people listen to you talk."
Alan Rich, a former IBM engineer-turned-teacher from Cary, N.C., would agree. He said he had to "stop for a second and pinch myself" when he found out that he would not only be teaching basic middle school science and math at local Triangle Day School, but courses like rocketry and space flight basics, robotics and conceptual physics.
An ambassador for four years, Rich developed a summer space camp with the help of the Cary Parks Department. He also helped with a local "Marsapalooza" show and volunteered at the Solar System Ambassador booth at the National Space Day kickoff in Washington, D.C.
Ambassador John Reiss, Jr., of Scottsdale, Ariz., continued his job as an international environmental consultant, but recently began substitute teaching for three local school districts. Seeing high-level technology abroad, Reiss feels that "we, as a nation, have to improve our educational system to gain back and excel in this global competition." To make that happen, Reiss looks to JPL for resources to improve science classes in schools.
In his classrooms, Reiss can be seen communicating his love of space to his students. At one point when a class was rowdy, Reiss popped in a JPL video about Mars.
"They were reluctant at first, but soon started to watch and then asked some questions. Normally, all they want to do is play games on the computer. Quite frankly, it made my day," Reiss said.
For more information on JPL's Solar System Ambassador program, visit http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/ambassador/front.html, or contact Kay Ferrari at email@example.com or (818) 354-7581.
A calendar of events hosted by The Solar System Ambassadors is available at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/ambassador/events.html .
JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif.