Space Exploration Educator Crew

We look for teachers who are passionate about integrating STEM into their curricula and communities. These are the educators who want to grow and are willing to go the extra mile to make learning meaningful for their students.
-Kaci Heins; Education Manager Space Center Houston

Educators from around the country are collaborating to prepare students for 21st century science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers through Space Center Houston’s inaugural Space Exploration Educator Crew.

Space Center Houston launched the program in 2017 to help meet a nationwide need to prepare students for STEM careers and an equal need for extraordinary teacher leaders to inspire students. The crew aims to empower teachers to build leadership competencies by creating innovative STEM programs for their students, schools and communities.

The group of 35 kindergarten through 12th-grade educators were awarded scholarships to attend Space Center Houston’s annual Space Exploration Educators Conference (SEEC) in 2017.

At the conference, the educators were tasked with performing outreach to other educators in their schools, districts, states or regions for one year. When the year ends, the educators will return to SEEC in 2018 to share the results of their education expeditions.

Through the program, teachers have access to unique professional development opportunities including the ability to collaborate with their regional teams and collaborate virtually with national educators to enhance and expand outreach.

The program structure was inspired by the International Space Station (ISS) “Year in Space” mission and modeled after the cross-cultural collaboration among space station crews.

The Space Exploration Educator Crew was made possible by a generous grant from The Boeing Company.

Crew news and initiatives

Crew members

Name: Adlena Jacobs
Title: STEM – Engineering Design and Problem Solving
Location: Mesquite, Texas
School: Mesquite ISD, Mesquite High School

Biography:Jacobs has been a Mesquite ISD educator for nine years. She graduated from North Mesquite High School in 2002 and went to Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA) and received a Bachelor of Science degree in physics and a master’s degree in college administration. She taught SFA physics laboratory courses for introductory physics 101, where she enjoyed the “light bulb moment” when students started to understand the purpose of their learning. She began teaching 8th grade math in 2008. While Jacobs was there, she started an after-school program called INNOVATION CONNECTION, consisting of inquiry and project-based learning. A student in the program has speech problems. His involvement with the program drew the notice of investors who wanted to invest in his innovative app for the district. Her current teaching assignment is STEM (engineering design and problems solving course). She is excited about her “Year in Space” because her room will be filled with light from the light bulbs she encourages. She is thrilled that she and her students will get to experience this fantastic program.


Name: Alexandra Hill
Title: STEM Teacher
Location: Clinton, Missouri
School: Clinton Middle School

Biography: Last year Hill attended Space Camp for educators and became enamored with space education. She also traveled to China and led professional development workshops focused on sharing strategies with Chinese teachers. These life changing experiences cultivated her knowledge of working in education and creating innovative opportunities for student growth. She is excited about the “Year in Space” because she can’t wait to learn more about space exploration to share with her students and other educators! She tries to make learning exciting for her students and can be found roaming the halls of her school in her lab coat or flight suit. Above all else, she wants her students to enjoy the process of learning and leave their classroom more curious about the world in which they live. The topic of space is a vessel that can be applied to infuse STEM education to make content more relevant and engaging. She is honored to teach in her rural community but sometimes her students feel like their world is very small. She hopes to use this experience to show them how big their world can become if they work hard and reach for the stars.


Name: Amanda Blough
Title: 4th grade teacher
Location: Chambersburg, Pennsylvania
School: Corpus Christi Catholic School

Biography: Over the past 17 years, Blough had the chance to grow and learn through many educational opportunities. Through all of those years, she experienced many things that affected the way she teaches. Two of her top achievements are taking part in the 2013 Reduced-Gravity Flight Program with two other teachers from our school. She conducted experiments in microgravity that her students had conducted during the school year. Another top achievement was being selected to have students talk to Dr. Kjell Lindgren while he was aboard the International Space Station through an ARISS connection. The student and community involvement in both of these achievements has led to an increased interest of STEM careers and opportunities. She is very excited to be a part of the “Year in Space” to expand the many opportunities for our school and our students. By working with teachers from across the country, it will build a fantastic network of ideas and support. She looks forward to working with exceptional educators with such diverse backgrounds who share the same enthusiasm about STEM as she does.


Name: Amy Fetterhoff
Title: Teacher
Location: Chambersburg, Pennsylvania
School: Corpus Christi Catholic School

Biography: With 18 years of teaching, Fetterhoff’s love for science has grown with the help of several NASA encounters. She has partaken in the Reduced-Gravity Flight Program, conducting research in a weightless environment. In addition, Fetterhoff has participated in the ARISS program where her students spoke directly to Astronaut Kjell Lindgren onboard the International Space Station. Fetterhoff also has visited several NASA centers talking to engineers and astronauts about their careers while receiving many behind-the-scene tours. During the summer of 2017, Fetterhoff was chosen to attend the Mickelson ExxonMobil Academy in Jersey City, New Jersey. As a strong advocate for science education in the classroom, Fetterhoff also teaches preservice teachers how to teach science at a local college in her hometown. She believes the more experiences she has, the better she will become at capturing her students and developing them into life-long scientists and engineers.


Name: Amy C. Tinnell
Title: Gifted Resource Specialist
Location: Hoschton, Georgia
School: West Jackson Elementary School

Biography: Amy Tinnell, a native of Tennessee, has been in education for nearly 20 years. She received her Bachelor of Science in education from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. After teaching several years in North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia, Tinnell received her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, specializing in integrated teaching through the arts. Recently, Tinnell entered a lesson plan contest sponsored by the Atlanta Science Festival. MTinnell’s 5th grade class was chosen as one of five in the state to radio communicate with an astronaut on the International Space Station. Tinnell feels a great sense of accomplishment when she provides learning experiences for students in her rural community that challenge them to exceed expectations of what small-town kids can do. This is why she is most excited about being selected to join the SEEC program. She is extremely grateful for this opportunity, because through it she will provide one-of-a-kind learning experiences for students in Jackson County. Who knows? Maybe someday she and her future students will radio communicate with one of her former students who was inspired to chase her dreams of space exploration because of this experience!


Name: Ashlie Smith
Title: Physical Science Teacher
Location: Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
School: Cranbrook Kingswood Middle School for Girls

Biography: Ashlie Smith instructs physical science at Cranbrook Kingswood Middle School for Girls located in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. An early adopter of educational technology and facilitative learning, Smith counts “flipping her classroom” as one of her top achievements. For this effort, she was recognized by TechSmith Corporation as Screencast Champion and awarded the honor of “exemplary teacher” by the Cranbrook Educational Community. For Smith, “flipping her classroom” means more time with students exploring real-world projects and introducing new technology. Smith uses space science to encourage her students to dream big and cites inspiring young girls to develop an interest in STEM and consider STEM careers as driving passions. In 2016, Smith was honored to present a TEDx talk titled “Inspiring the Astronauts of Tomorrow.” She was the recipient of the prestigious 2017 Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award presented by NASA, Astronaut Memorial Foundation, and Space Foundation. Just recently, she was recognized by the Science Channel as a Science Super Hero. In addition to instruction, Smith chairs an innovation committee charged with furthering a relationship between Cranbrook and the MIT Edgerton Center, is an active participant with the Cubes in Space program sending numerous student experiments to space, and acts as a teacher ambassador with The Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) writing curriculum. She is thrilled to continue her journey for a second year as a Space Exploration Educator Crew member.


Name: Barb Lambert Gruber
Title:Supervisor School Programs
Location: Ashburn, Virginia
School: National Air and Space Museum

Biography: Gruber’s education includes a Ph.D. in education with an emphasis in instructional technology and educational policy from George Mason University, a Master of Education in administration and leadership from The University of Phoenix, a Master of Education in educational technology from San Diego State University, and a Bachelor of Science in chemistry education from California University of Pennsylvania. She holds a Virginia Postgraduate Professional License in chemistry and administration and supervision preK-12. One professional milestone in her career have been becoming the first certified educational technology leader from The Consortium of School Networks (CoSN) in the greater Washington D.C. area. In 2014, she also was named by the National School Boards Association (NSBA) as a “20 to Watch” educational technology leader. Participating in this “Year in Space” is fulfilling her personal learning goals to learn more about space exploration and experiencing firsthand how NASA prepares its astronauts. She also plans to build her professional goals to provide rich authentic hands-on experiences to the students who come to our museum and professionally develop educators to provide more engaging and authentic learning opportunities for their students.


Name: Becky Busby
Title: Gifted Resource Teacher
Location: Hinesville, Georgia
School: Frank Long Elementary

Biography: Becky Busby has dedicated her teaching career to the Liberty County School System for 17 years. In her current position as a gifted resource teacher, she works with kindergarten through fifth grade gifted students. Busby is an avid advocate for students in our school by serving in many different leadership roles. She has trained and certified over 100 teachers to assist with getting their Georgia Gifted Certification. In the classroom, Busby is a powerhouse. She has written grants to obtain STEM resources for her school, facilitated school climate activities for staff and students, and has personally brought the first robotics program into the district. Busby was selected to work with NASA on the “Year in Space” mission to bring NASA resources and STEM education to Liberty County. Through this experience, she plans on implementing professional development courses for teachers and parents to enrich the Liberty County School District. Busby is excited about bringing her experience and enthusiasm into the Space Exploration Educator Crew program as she embarks on the “Year in Space” mission!


Name: Celena Miller
Title: Science Lab Instructor fourth and fifth graders
Location: Pharr, Texas
School: Cesar Chavez Elementary

Biography: For ten years, Celena Miller has been the Science Lab Instructor at Cesar Chavez Elementary teaching fourth and fifth graders. Early in her teaching career, Celena was selected for the prestigious NASA Lift Off Summer Institute sponsored by the Texas Space Grant Consortium and returned to the program the subsequent two years. This single summer institute provided the jumping board for her involvement in NASA education, curriculum writing and other opportunities. Miller’s ultimate goal is to inspire her students to achieve beyond their own expectations. Her classroom aspires to build a love of learning that excites students by hands-on activities and real world science. Miller has participated in NASA’s Project 3D View, the NASA Endeavor Science Teaching Certificate Project, the Robotics, Ocean and Microgravity Explorers Challenge, as a Mars Atmospheric and Volatile Evolution Teacher Ambassador and various other programs. Additionally, she also participated in two missions with the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education for the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program to the International Space Station. In 2014, Miller was also named the HEB Excellence in Education Rising Star Winner for Texas and served as the 2015 Texas Academy of Science Outstanding Texas Educator. Miller earned her B.S. and M.S. from the University of Texas at Pan American.


Name: Debbie Reynolds
Title: Science and STEM Teacher
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
School:Harrison Middle School – Baldwin-Whitehall School District

Biography: Reynolds has been an educator since 1986. Her experience was middle level science and math until moving to Pittsburgh 10 years ago. She started working for the Baldwin-Whitehall School District, and one of her greatest achievements was building the gifted program at the high school. With the support of her colleagues and administrators, she developed a strong program and extended these experiences to all students. STEM education is very important to her, and it’s been her passion to expose students to as many opportunities as possible while making real-world connections. In her current position as a seventh science and STEM teacher Reynolds also serves as the SeaPerch coach and the Science Fair coordinator. She is fortunate to have been selected for the Space Exploration Educator Crew. This “Year in Space” ties in perfectly, as she is the Flight Director for the IKS Highlander simulator which is an immersive, interactive simulator in her school. After participating in the NASA ASU Mars Symposium, LiftOff and Survival U programs last summer, she is using what she learned and is currently working to create a Mission to Mars. The opportunity to learn from, collaborate and develop STEM-based learning experiences with other educators is very exciting.


Name: Denise Duke
Title: Technology Learning Coach
Location: Columbia, South Carolina
School:Forest Lake Elementary

Biography:With 25 years in education, Denise Duke has worked tirelessly to increase both students’ and teachers’ knowledge of space exploration as a classroom teacher, NASA Lab teacher, and currently as a Technology Learning Coach. As part of a NASA Explorer School, she has had the privilege to engage in numerous space-related opportunities. Of these, being chosen to participate in both the 2012 and 2013 Reduced Gravity Opportunities were highlights of the classroom years. She was recognized as the first recipient of the NASA Digital Learning Network Beagle Award after years of working with NASA to extend DLN programs to the primary grades. Through strong community partnerships, Duke and some of her fourth-grade students assisted EdVenture Children’s Museum with the creation of a flight exhibit and brought the week-long STARBase field study experience back to the school. Duke looks forward to building relationships with other crew members as they collaborate and work on a school plan that will lead to exciting activities for both teachers and students.


Name: Deb Elliott
Title: 4th Grade math teacher
Location: Carthage, North Carolina
School:Sandhills Farm Life Elementary

Biography: As Elliot moves past the twelve year mark in her teaching career, she reflected on some of her best accomplishments as an educator. The first was being selected as a teacher liaison for the Space Foundation in Colorado Springs. Through the Space Foundation, she learned how to bring STEM to life with my students and collaborate with remarkable teachers. This spring she presented at a teacher workshop at the National Space Symposium on innovative ways to incorporate STEM. Another accomplishment has been creating a science program and implementing it for kindergarten through sixth grade. The program entails hands-on activities and uses literacy as an avenue to learn new science concepts. Looking ahead at her “Year in Space” there is a surplus of opportunities that she’s excited about. Collaboration time with other educators and hearing about what has worked for them is paramount. She is eager to engage students and teachers in space activities that will allow for ample opportunities for both growth and exploration. She hopes to become a better educator and person through the Space Education Exploration Crew program and looks forward to this wonderful opportunity!


Name: Diego Martinez
Title: Science Mastery Specialist
Location: Sheridan, Oregon
School:Delphian

Biography: Diego Martinez is an educator from Alamosa, Colorado. He is currently a math and science mentor at Delphian School. During his career, he has developed and implemented individualized curriculum to help a wide range of learners. Some of his top achievements include earning the United Space Alliance Grant, a space astrogation project called Mars in 2020. This cross-curricular project helped him work with other teachers to inspire students to imagine exploring Mars using a unique space curriculum. This project culminated with a summit of Mount Blanca, over 14,000 feet, and breaking a model rocket launch record. He also wrote the TESLA program (Teaching Extraordinary Students Lessons in Aerospace). This program used individualized curriculum and was a key component to winning the 2013 Alan Shepard Award for Space Education Technology. TESLA gives students an introduction to aerospace and advances them through a self-paced mastery course. Martinez has worked with over 40 students who have completed the program with a personal glider training session. Gail and Diego Martinez also founded the “Lindbergh Challenge,” which challenges students to fly flight simulators nonstop for 33.5 hours. Martinez also earned the prestigious Alan Shepard Award for Space Education Technology in 2018.


Name: Jennifer Cheesman
Title: Teacher
Location: Sun City, Arizona
School:Zuni Hills Elementary School

Biography: Jennifer Cheesman has been a classroom teacher for over 22 years with experience teaching fourth grade through eighth grade. Ten years ago, she found her true passion teaching science to sixth graders. She strives to break down classroom walls to show that science is happening all around her students. Cheesman received her degree in Elementary Education through Northern Arizona University. In October 2017, she received her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Phoenix. Cheesman has presented at numerous local and national conferences across the United States. In the summer, Cheesman can be found at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center as an educator crew trainer educating teachers from around the world in STEM and space education. She hopes to use this experience to connect classroom learning in growing food for astronauts with her classroom hydroponic tower garden.


Name: Jennifer Duffer
Title: Engineering and robotics teacher
Location: Montgomery, Texas
School:Montgomery High School

Biography: A native Texan, Duffer’s teaching journey began in 2005 as a first grade teacher. After two years she transitioned to junior high where she taught for six years. Three of those years she was a coach and history teacher, and then she had three years as a Project Lead the Way (PLTW) Engineering teacher. For the past three years, Duffer has been an integral part in developing the PLTW and Robotics programs at Montgomery High School in Texas. While she has always loved teaching she has flourished as a PLTW teacher. She loves watching her students grow and providing them with opportunities that support their future careers. Currently Duffer and her Aerospace Engineering students are building a Van’s RV-12 airplane along with the support of local mentors from the aviation and engineering career fields. Growing up Duffer dreamed of being an astronaut. While she hasn’t achieved that dream yet, she is driven to share her passion for space and exploration with students. In doing this she hopes to inspire them to pursue careers involved with space exploration. Participating in the Texas Space Consortium Lift Off Summer Institute, Space Academy and SEEC provide her with opportunities to learn more about the current mission and focus of space exploration so she can take that back to her students. As part of the Space Exploration Educator Crew Duffer is excited to collaborate with teachers in order to develop relevant hands on curriculum for teachers and students that will be implemented all across the nation.


Name: Jessica Strauss
Title: 3rd grade gifted math/science teacher
Location: Mabry Elementary
School:Hillcrest Middle School

Biography: As an educator, it is Strauss’ duty to show students that learning is a lifelong endeavor. She does this by always applying for new opportunities and taking advantage of the multitude of resources available to educators. This allows her to learn and apply new methods and activities that fit the needs of her students. She participated in the Honeywell Educators at Space Academy as well as MEMTA (Mickelson Exxon Mobil Teachers Academy). Her most exciting opportunity was working with SSEP-Student Spaceflight Experiment Program. She worked with fifth-grade students to propose an experiment to be done on the International Space Station. They worked with college professors, Skyped with NASA and connected with the community to prepare the experiment. Strauss learned so much alongside her students and grew a new passion for space exploration. The “Year in Space” is going to push her as a teacher not just with her students but with her professional skill building, planning and training of others. She is most excited to work with the team of passionate teachers from around the country to instill a love of STEM topics and of space that so many of these amazing educators embody.


Name: Jill Gilford
Title: Earth and Space Science Teacher
Location: Monticello, Indiana
School:Twin Lakes High School

Biography: Gilford has been teaching Earth and Space science and Biology at Twin Lakes High School in Monticello, Indiana since 2006. In 2014 she created a program named the “Science Buddies” that allows honors Earth/space students to partner with a class of first-grade students. Once a month they meet and complete hands-on STEM activities. Originally she used this program as a way to assess students’ knowledge of the Earth science content as they were “teaching” the first-grade students. It turned into much more. Students learn research and laboratory techniques, critical thinking skills, data analysis and collaboration. They learn various “soft skills” such as communication, decision-making, leadership and team work that will help them be successful members of society. They complete monthly activities and two major projects (one per semester), including designing and creating a Rube Goldberg machine to show how chain reactions work and launching a weather balloon to near space with a camera and GPS tracker on board. Students send mini experiments to test how various substances react to changes in altitude and temperature. The Science Buddies program has since expanded to four partnerships between chemistry and fifth grade, Honors Biology and second grade and Biology and first grade. In 2017 she was selected as TLSC district teacher of the year and made it to the top 25 in the Indiana Teacher of the Year program. She is grateful to be a part of the Space Exploration Educators Crew and looks forward to gaining new lessons that will ignite her students’ passion for astronomy!


Name: Jodie Guillen
Title: 6th and 7th Grade Science Teacher, Mad Scientist Extraordinaire
Location: Moriarty, New Mexico
School:Moriarty Middle School

Biography:Guillen currently teaches science at Moriarty Middle School to the most fantabulous bunch of sixth- and seventh- grade students you’ll ever meet! Throughout the past year, she brought in well over $60,000 in grant money from organizations all over the United States, including a STEM focused after-school program that she designed, complete with a 3D printer, Lego EV3 Robotics, and Sea Perch, as well as a visit from the New Mexico Museum of Space History’s Portable Planetarium and Alien Autopsy! She was one of a handful of educators selected to attend Space Camp this past summer in Huntsville, Alabama, a lifelong dream for Guillen! She looks forward to working with the awesome Space Exploration Educator Crew over the next year in order to ignite the scientists, engineers, and space pioneers of tomorrow, sitting in classrooms around the globe right now, through our “Year in Space” curriculum that will fuse STEAM and beyond into a fantastical display of awesomeness, creating an environment where dreams can take flight… forever altering the course of lives along the way!


Name: Julie Farmer
Title: Fourth grade teacher
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
School:Mooreland Heights Elementary

Biography:Julie Farmer has been teaching for twelve years. She has taught kindergarten, third and fourth grade. She received tenure in 2008 and has been a mentoring teacher for Johnson University for several years. Julie has been a space enthusiast since seeing the movie “Space Camp” as a child. She had the amazing opportunity to go to Space Camp for teachers during the summer of 2016 and came back more excited than ever about both space and teaching. She is thrilled to be a part of the Space Exploration Educator Crew and can’t wait to share her enthusiasm with her students, school and community during her “Year in Space.”


Name: Karen Kingrea
Title: STEM Director; I also teach a 7th & 8th grade Technology & Engineering class
Location: Durham, North Carolina
School:Immaculata Catholic School

Biography:In 2008, Kingrea was thrilled to be part of a two-week institute at NASA Langley Research Center. A lucrative partnership continues as she brings teacher and student groups to the facility, hosts NASA experts at her schools and works various NASA events. In 32 years of teaching, nothing she did made her more excited than the ICS middle school STEM project this year, Project Eagle: Mission to Mars. Student teams create a Martian habitat which includes ten different 12-foot by 5-foot modules, working drones and ROV’s, an astronaut transport vehicle and more. Students blog to document their progress which is shared with families, friends and partners. Students hosted a tour event in April. She is honored to be a part of a diverse and experienced group in the Space Exploration Educator Crew. Exploration and collaboration with these individuals and various NASA experts over the next year is truly a dream come true.


Name: Katie Belloli
Title:Innovation Center Instructor
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
School:Westfield Intermediate School

Biography:Conrad is a proud third-generation Boilermaker. Her grandpa was the first in their family to attend Purdue. In retirement, he became interested in astronomy, and Conrad remembers many lessons and telescope views with him. She is happy to be a Purdue alumnus and sharing this, not only with her family, but with so many astronauts. She is currently in my fourth year of teaching. She has taught third, fourth and fifth grade students. One of her biggest accomplishments as an educator is communicating with Robert Paul Weston, an awesome author, after reading his books, “Zorgamazoo” and “The Creature Department.” Another accomplishment is incorporating art into my classroom through Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). She enjoyed seeing her students thrive with VTS and is thankful for the Indianapolis Museum of Art for their partnership in this experience. She is extremely excited about my “Year in Space” because it combines three of her passions – collaboration with educators, planning a curriculum and space!


Name: Katrina Roddenberry
Title: 8th Grade Science Teacher
Location: Crawfordville, Florida
School:Wakulla Middle School

Biography:Katrina Roddenberry is an eighth-grade science teacher at Wakulla Middle School in Crawfordville, Florida. She formerly taught for nine years at Riversink Elementary School where she was named 2013-14 Teacher of the Year. She recently obtained a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction with a concentration in teaching science. Roddenberry is also an adjunct instructor at Flagler College-Tallahassee. She was the lead teacher of NASA’s Microgravity Experience in 2013. Students at her school designed and built an experiment that she and four other teachers later tested aboard a reduced gravity aircraft. In 2015, she was the coordinating teacher of the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) project. Using amateur radio, students asked an astronaut aboard the ISS about life in space as it orbited over the school. She is thrilled to be a member of the inaugural 2017-18 Space Exploration Educator Crew program, as it has enhanced her STEM content knowledge, space-related instruction, and teaching practices. Above all, Roddenberry wants students in her region to benefit from her participation in the program. She is passionate about sharing her experiences to help provide meaningful STEM opportunities and learning for all students.


Name: Kellie Taylor
Title: Kindergarten through fifth-grade engineering teacher
Location: Eagle, ID
School: Galileo STEM Academy

Biography:Kellie Taylor has been the kindergarten through fifth-grade engineering teacher at Galileo STEM Academy since 2012. She began her teaching career in 2004 and earned her masters and doctorate in Educational Technology while teaching full time. Taylor has shared her work in the classroom at various conferences beginning with the 2013 Radical Innovation Summit in Washington D.C. and then as a strand provider for robotics and 3D printing at the 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018 i-STEM Summer Institutes. In addition, Taylor presented her work with robotics and 3D printing at the 2014, 2015 and 2017 NCCE Conferences. She also presented on robotics that are programmed in C++ at 2018 SEEC and 2018 IETA. Kellie has been recognized as a 2014 State Finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and attended the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in July 2015. She also received the 2016 K-6 Industry’s Excellent Educators Dedicated to STEM award for her work integrating industry into the classroom and providing real world science experiences. Taylor has been Teacher of the Year at her school in 2007, 2012 and 2017, and more recently, is a 2018 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow. She is a new member of Space Exploration Educator Crew through Space Center Houston. Taylor continues to advance students’ engagement in STEM with classroom instruction, additional opportunities in after school groups and competitive teams and organizing school-wide events such as STEM Night and Sumobots. Furthermore, while developing her professional abilities and the abilities of her students, Taylor works to conduct action research on best practices for STEM implementation in the elementary classroom.


Name: Lauren Parker
Title: 7th and 8th Grade Science Teacher
Location: Fort Worth, Texas
School:Fort Worth Academy

Biography:Parker earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Education from Texas Christian University. Currently in her 10th year teaching, she teaches seventh- and eighth-grade science at Fort Worth Academy in Fort Worth, Texas. She has earned many recognitions in her teaching career including being named District Teacher of the Year. She was also selected to present with her students at the NASA/Sally Ride Science GRAIL MoonKam Teacher Expo in Washington, D.C. to share how the mission was incorporated in the classroom. She is a frequent presenter at both local and national conferences. Lauren is looking forward to her “Year in Space” as a member of the Space Exploration Educator Crew because it will provide the opportunity to collaborate with other educators who are also passionate about sharing their love of space and space exploration. She is looking forward to increasing the engagement and enthusiasm with teachers and students at her school and in her community.


Name:Leesa Hubbard
Title: Resource Teacher
Location: Lebanon, Tennessee
School:Southside Elementary

Biography: Leesa Hubbard is a teacher from Wilson County Tennessee, and has been teaching for 32 years. During the 2002-2003 school year, she was awarded the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship, where she worked for a year at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. While there, she had the opportunity to work with the Educator Astronaut Program. Another highlight was the good fortune to be on loan to Sally Ride Science as their Teacher in Residence. Not only did she work for a famous astronaut, but she created and implemented professional development for other teachers surrounding NASA’s GRAIL mission to the Moon. Hubbard has been the recipient of several awards, including the Cheri Brindley Space Educator Award and the Exceptional Public Service Medal from Marshall Space Flight Center. She enjoys using aerospace across the curriculum to motivate students of all ages and abilities.


Name:Lisa Mitchell
Title: 6-7 grade Science Teacher
Location: Palmdale, California
School:David G. Millen Middle School

Biography: Mitchell has been teaching science for six years at David G. Millen Middle School in Palmdale, California. She graduated from CSUN with a degree in biology and earned her single subject teaching credential from Brandman University. She is a science nerd who prefers life science, but has a strong passion for learning about space! Two years ago, she went to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama through Honeywell’s Educators Space Academy program, where she learned exciting and fun hands-on activities that she shared with her students. She is thrilled to join the Space Exploration Educator Crew program this year! Space is a high interest subject for both her and her students. Her students use “alien DNA” as part of a genetics project and plan habitats that astronauts might call home on Mars. At SEEC, she seeks new ways to incorporate space into my current curriculum, including new hands-on activities and real NASA data. Students are enthusiastic to learn about space, so converging space with core science content strengthens their motivation and inspires them to keep learning!


Name:Lorie Hammerstrom
Title: Informal STEM Teacher
Location: Hingham, MA
School:Quincy Public Schools

Biography: Lorie Hammerstrom has been an educator since 1986. She has been a science-focus teacher in Quincy Public Schools for more than 30 years. After attending Space Academy for Teachers in Huntsville, Ala., Hammerstrom created an afterschool enrichment program for her students. This program is 10 weeks of STEM activities geared toward space exploration. The culmination is a graduation program that is attended by more than 400 family and community members each year. Hammerstrom is a Space Camp Ambassador as well as an Ambassador to the Solar System and has served as the LEGO robotics coach at her school. Hammerstrom was awarded the Presidential Award for Math and Science Teachers for 2016.


Name:Maria Nickel
Title: Teacher
Location: Stonewall, Manitoba Canada
School:Ecole Stonewall Centennial School

Biography: Maria Nickel is a classroom teacher who lives in Winnipeg, Canada and teaches in a small farming community in rural Manitoba. She has taught technology, science, math and art for the past 19 years to kindergarten through eighth-grade students, and space is her real love. Nickel submitted an implementation plan to the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program (SSEP) in 2010 which would engage over 600 students and 17 teachers across her school district to launch Canada’s first ever elementary experiment to the ISS on cancer. In 2017 she engaged 450 middle school students in creating 200 proposals again for SSEP, and in August 2018, a group of her eighth grade students sent a second SSEP experiment to the ISS on an experiment called “Will Tomatosphere seeds germinate after a second exposure to radiation and microgravity once back on Earth after eight weeks in space on the ISS?” In March 2018 she coordinated and instructed in the first ever division-wide STEM riot day for all the eighth grade students in the school division. Three hundred students interacted with astronaut Cady Coleman and former Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and NASA scientists Dr. Phillip Ferguson and Brian Ewenson. Six of her space club students are also part of a team of Canadian universities’ proposal that was accepted by the CSA. Her students will be building a CUBE SATELLITE and will design, test and build one of the instruments: a Gnomon. Nickel has won numerous awards such as the Provincial Education Award for Group Collaboration for Global Trek Voyagers in 2010, the Prime Ministers National Award of Teaching Excellence for 2013 for Science education in Canada. She was nominated in 2014 for the Cheryl Brinley Award for Science Education Excellence Space Exploration Educators Conference (SEEC). She was part of a delegation of all three SSEP finalists to present at AIMS Day for students to His Royal Highness Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, during their state visit to Winnipeg, Canada in 2014. She created the first astronaut simulation training curriculum for her space club where students learn to scuba dive and perform tasks similar to tasks at NASA Johnson Space Center Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston, Texas. This past July 2018 she was part of a team of educators to instruct and provide demonstrations to Chinese students in third through eighth grade in Shenzhen, China along with four other Space Exploration Educator Crew members.


Name:Mary Catherine Vaughn
Title:Teacher, Grade 6 Gifted Science
Location:Lithia, Florida
School:Randall Middle School (Hillsborough County Public Schools)

Biography: Mary Vaughn grew up with eight siblings in Michigan and presently resides near Tampa, Florida where she teaches science to the academically gifted students at Randall Middle School. She attended Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. Mary strives to engage students to go into STEM fields. Mary has been teaching for more than twenty years and hopes to continue to inspire students for many more years. She also is actively involved as a science trainer in the district of Hillsborough County, Florida and strives to inspire teachers so that they too will inspire their students. Mary also is the project manager for the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program of which she has lead two teams of fifth grade students sending lettuce seeds and cotton seeds to the space station. During the summers of 2010 and 2008, Mary was awarded fellowships, sponsored by Honeywell employees, to attend Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. Mary says this was the best teacher training experience she has ever had along with training around the country with Sally Ride Science. Mary is also a Solar System Educator with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.


Name:Maya Ghosh
Title:Middle School Science Teacher
Location:Somerset, New Jersey
School:Thomas Edison Energy Smart Charter School

Biography: Ghosh is a science educator at Thomas Edison Energy Smart Charter School, Somerset, New Jersey. She is blessed with a loving husband and two beautiful boys. Her older son is a sophomore majoring in aerospace and mechanical engineering, and her little one is a first grader. Her educational career began in India before he moved to the United States. Her first job was at Houston Independent School District in Houston, Texas. To support her career, she kept professional learning alive and well. She is currently in the last semester of a master’s degree in science education from Rutgers University. Her students participated in Student Spaceflight experiments program where one of their investigations flew to International Space Station. TEECS students are also contributing to Globe’s El Nino campaign. She is excited to be part of the “Year in Space.” Through this program, she hopes to support teachers and students not only in her school, but also in her community as well. With the knowledge and expertise she gains, she looks forward to driving her team and herself with full confidence in teaching space science.


Name:Meredith Swartzendruber
Title:Teacher
Location:Biddeford, Maine
School:Biddeford Middle School

Biography: Meredith Swartzendruber has been a middle school educator for 12 years in both public and private school environments. She currently is starting a new eighth grade science position and will be supplementing curriculum to further engage students through hands-on, inquiry-based science lessons. Swartzendruber attended Space Academy for Educators in 2009 on a scholarship through Honeywell Technologies and caught the space bug. From there, her passion and dedication to space education took off! In 2014, Swartzendruber expanded her space network by attending Advanced Space Academy for Educators and became an aerospace educator for the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). The following year, she was awarded the chapter teacher of the year with CAP. She took her students to new heights twice through the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, where two student-designed experiments were flown to the ISS. In 2016, Swartzendruber was awarded the Delaware State Teacher of the Year for the Air Force Association (AFA) and then the first-runner up for the National Teacher of the Year, also through the AFA. She has presented space lessons at SEEC twice, as well as at a regional NSTA conference and spent a week at Goddard Space Center learning hands-on activities about the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission. Through this experience, she plans on implementing professional development courses for teachers and parents to enrich the Scarborough Public Schools in Maine. Swartzendruber is excited about bringing her experience and enthusiasm into the Space Exploration Educator Crew program as she embarks on the “Year in Space” mission!


Name:Michael Wilkinson
Title:Math-Science Specialist
Location:Bronx, New York
School:Fieldston Lower School

Biography: Wilkinson has been a math and science teacher for the past 30 years. In that time, he developed a curricula in math and science for upper elementary and middle school that provides students with the opportunity to engage in the content in authentic ways. His students are mathematicians and scientists engaged in inquiry and investigation. He is a NASA Airborne Sciences Master Teacher and a NASA Earth SySTEM Ambassador. Being part of the Space Exploration Educator Crew is another opportunity to infuse space exploration themes into his curriculum and provide a variety of opportunities for his students. Beyond his own students, this “team” will have an impact at a national level. He is thrilled to be a part of this team and looks forward to the “Year in Space.”


Name:Michelle Mohrweis
Title:STEM teacher
Location:Chandler, Arizona
School:Bogle Jr. High

Biography: This year is Mohrweis’ fifth year teaching, and she can’t wait to see what achievements she will reach as she continues on in education. This year she has taken on a VEX robotics club and also teaches engineering to seventh and eighth grade students. She enjoys every excuse to talk about Space in her lessons and has been developing a unit all about engineering on the International Space Station. She’s excited to see where her future will take her and how she can use her time in the Space Exploration Educator Crew to help spread the teaching of space and encourage kids to go into engineering careers within our space agencies.


Name:Nancy Sills

Biography: Sills has lived in Georgia her whole life, teaching various grade levels and in numerous school systems for the past 40 years. She is blessed with one husband, three daughters, two sons-in-law and three grandchildren. Being chosen as a Georgia State Teacher of the Year finalist in 2006 was the beginning of an amazing year of representing teachers from around the state. The University of Rhode Island’s Office of Marine Studies’ ARMADA Project furthered her Earth science experience outside the classroom. She spent ten days on the research vessel Endeavor off the coast of New England searching for fresh water under the ocean floor. The Space Exploration Educator Crew will allow her to use the experiences that she has in being an educator ambassador with New Horizons, MAVEN and other NASA programs to formulate real-life projects that will incorporate space into a year of teaching. Collaborating with NASA scientists and staff along with teachers from around the country will provide a way for students to feel that they are part of the space program and how it affects their daily lives.


Name:Nathan W. Tubbs
Title:6th Grade Science Teacher & Middle School STEAM Coordinator
Location:Brooklyn, New York
School:PS/IS 30 Mary White Ovington

Biography: Originally from Alabama, Nathan Tubbs moved to Brooklyn, New York in 2008 and entered the teaching profession through the NYC Teaching Fellows program. Desiring to connect his love for space with teaching, he has participated in Honeywell Educators at Space Academy, led his students to send an experiment to the International Space Station for a six-week stay through a partnership with the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, and currently serves as a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador. In 2017, he further expanded his professional horizons by being commissioned as a first lieutenant in the United States Air Force Reserves, serving as a Chaplain at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. In everything he does, Tubbs seeks to inspire his students to be the next generation of scientists, engineers and explorers. He is excited to participate in the crew program as it gives him an opportunity to connect with other like-minded educators around the country and discover new experiences to pass along to his students and community.


Name:Renée Gamba
Title:Museum of Natural History Director
Krupowicz Planetarium Outreach Coordinator/Teacher
Location:Rhode Island
School:Gaudet Middle School and Learning Academy

Biography: Renee Gamba is the Director of the Museum of Natural History and Cormack Planetarium in Providence, Rhode Island and Outreach Coordinator/Teacher for the Krupowicz Planetarium at Gaudet School in Middletown, Rhode Island. An exciting educational achievement for her was forging a relationship with Middletown public schools to develop and provide science instruction to students using the planetarium located in Gaudet School. Doing what she loves and having the opportunity to educate and empower students in the sciences and the natural world is her biggest educational achievement. She is extremely excited to participate in the Space Education Expedition Crew Program as it will provide her with professional development and resources to use in creating curriculum. More importantly, it will allow her to be part of a community of educators to develop STEM-based learning experiences to prepare students for the future.


Name:Stacie Pottenger
Title:Third Grade Teacher
Location:Savannah, Georgia
School:Williams Elementary School

Biography: Stacie Pottenger is a third grade teacher at Spencer Elementary School in Savannah, Georgia. Two of her top achievements are that she recently earned her education specialist degree in leadership from Georgia Southern University and was named her school’s current Teacher of the Year. She is very excited about her upcoming “Year in Space” during the Space Exploration Educator Crew program because she will provide her students, school and community with STEM-based learning experiences that will help prepare students for 21st century STEM careers. Integrating these experiences into her ELA units will help to promote higher order thinking by using space related themes and concepts in order to help increase student excitement about learning. The collaboration and information gathered from her “Year in Space” will provide her class, school and community with an engaging experience where students will create, build and solve real-world problems. This is an amazing opportunity of which she is extremely proud.


Name:Terri Mynatt
Title:Teacher Kindergarten 1st & 2nd grade
Location:Venetie, Alaska
School:John Fredson School – Yukon Flats School District

Biography: Learning and developing knowledge about space for a year with support from an amazing crew all exploring together, Mynatt is ready to build the rocket ship right now! Bringing in-depth knowledge about space seems like walking into a time warp and grabbing onto the fabric of the future. Rarely does one take hold of the opportunity to pull the future toward ourselves. Future is imagined in the present, explored with her students who will create it. They will be living into the very future that was only a whimsical dream of their teacher. Bringing the “Year In Space” to them is pulling a new future toward her students, giving them unlimited possibilities. Mynatt is a fellow of Fund For Teachers, which gave her the opportunity to explore Italy and Switzerland’s educational systems. She was selected as a “The Arctic in the Classroom” teacher with ARCUS and became a GLOBE certified teacher. In both those programs, her students are given the opportunity to work with researchers. She found that she does not need to know all the information in the universe to teach science. What she needs is scientists that work with her as she works with her students.


Name:Valeria Rodriguez
Title:Middle School Science Teacher
Location:Miami, Florida
School:Gulliver Academy

Biography: Rodriguez is a University of Florida graduate, bilingual children’s book author and illustrator, instructional designer and a passionate educator who’s excited about infusing the classroom with creativity, technology, science and good vibes. She began teaching while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer (Sustainable Agriculture Sector) in Panama. Teaching at a school where first- through eighth-grade students grade were in one class with latrine restrooms and a chair-propped chalkboard was humbling and inspiring. She learned there that the most sustainable way to affect change in the world was through education. She continued to work in education, transitioning to science classrooms, incorporating my background in biology and sustainability. She developed an interest in space science in the last two years. Her students worked with NASA scientist Gioia Massa and Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens on the “Growing Beyong Earth” challenge. They grow plants indoors under LED lights and recommend potential candidates to be grown on the International Space Station and eventually on Mars. She experienced the OSIRIS-REx Launch in September, which rocketed my interest in space exploration to another dimension. She looks forward to getting to know the crew members and picking up tools to create out-of-this-universe learning experiences for students.


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