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28 High School Science Teachers Selected as Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors and Will Fly on NASA’s SOFIA

28 High School Science Teachers Selected as Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors and Will Fly on NASA’s SOFIA

AAA 2013
Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors Constance Gartner, left, Vicente Washington, second from left, Ira Harden, third from left, and Chelen Johnson, standing, work at the EPO console during the February 14, 2013, flight. Credit: Nicholas A. Veronico

February 26, 2020, Mountain View, CA -- The SETI Institute has selected 28 teachers from 13 states as 2020 NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (AAA). AAA is a professional development program for high school science teachers designed to improve science teaching and increase student learning and STEM engagement. Training includes a week-long immersion experience at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center Hangar 703 in Palmdale, California, with participation in research flights on NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). The program culminates in classroom delivery of a SOFIA science-oriented curriculum module.

AAA teachers receive training in astrophysics and planetary science content and pedagogy. After their flights, they teach a two-week physical science curriculum module created by the SETI Institute that focuses on the electromagnetic spectrum using SOFIA science examples as illustrations.  WestEd education consultants assess the impact of the specialized curriculum module on student STEM learning and engagement.

“We are delighted that this new AAA cohort expands the program’s geographical reach and includes teachers from 13 states,” said Dr. Dana Backman, AAA program lead. “These teachers will use their professional development and SOFIA experiences to convey real-world content to their students that illuminates the value of scientific research and the wide variety of STEM career paths available to them.”

The school districts and organizations participating in the AAA program during 2020 are:

Anchorage School District, Alaska
Central Berkshire Regional School District, Massachusetts
Cobb County Schools, Georgia
Douglas County School District, Colorado
Edmunds Central School District, South Dakota
Fayette County Public Schools, Kentucky
Fort Zumwalt School District, Missouri
Harmony Public Schools, Texas
William S. Hart Union High School District, California
Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District SAU47, New Hampshire
Morgan County School District, Georgia
New Mexico Public Education Department, New Mexico
Northside Independent School District (San Antonio), Texas
Perris Union School District, California
Rochester Community Schools, Michigan
St. Hope Public Schools, California
Wilson School District, Pennsylvania

The 28 teachers selected as 2020 Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors are listed and pictured below:

Adam Unlu, Harmony School of Excellence, Laredo TX
Alec Johnson, Morgan County High School, Madison GA
Bob MacArthur, Highlands Ranch High School, Highlands Ranch CO
Brandon Rodriguez, Crescenta Valley High School, La Crescenta – Montrose CA
Christopher Tijerina, Jay High School, San Antonio TX
David Dahari, Wahconah Regional High School, Dalton MA
Denise Minor, Henry Clay High School, Lexington KY
Domina Stamas, Sacramento Charter High School, Sacramento CA
Doug LaVigne, Kell High School, Marietta GA
Eric Thuma, Stoney Creek High School, Rochester Hills MI
Harbir Kaur, Saugus High School, Santa Clarita CA
Heather Guiendon, Walton High School, Marietta GA
Henry Salgado, Harmony School of Innovation, El Paso TX
Ivan Banuelos, Earl Warren High School, San Antonio TX
Jaymee Keith, Eagle River High School, Eagle River AK
Jennifer Childress, A.J. Dimond High School, Anchorage AK
Jessica Winn, Polaris K-12, Anchorage AK
Joe Leibner, Fort Zumwalt East High School, St. Peters MO
Joe Jennings, Paloma Valley High School, Menifee CA
Keith Duda, Wilson High School, West Lawn PA
Mark Youngblood, Bartlett High School, Anchorage AK
Melissa Bouquet, Fort Zumwalt West High School, O’Fallon MO
Nicholas Fisher, Fort Zumwalt North High School, O’Fallon MO
Spencer Cody, Edmunds Central High School, Roscoe SD
Starrissa Winters, Wheeler High School, Marietta GA
Susan Rolke, Conant High School, Jaffrey NH
Thomas Ogle, Fort Zumwalt East High School, St. Peters MO
Umedi Rasulzoda, Albuquerque School of Excellence, Albuquerque NM

AAA Cycle 8 Roster

SOFIA is a Boeing 747SP aircraft modified to carry a telescope with an effective diameter of 100 inches. It is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, DLR. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the SOFIA program, science, and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart. The aircraft is maintained and operated from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center’s airborne science facility in Palmdale, Calif.

(Figure 1) NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, preparing for a flight from Christchurch, NZ airport during a southern hemisphere deployment. (NASA)
AAAs at the educators' console aboard SOFIA
(Figure 2) A group of Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors at the educators’ console aboard SOFIA. (SETI Institute)

About the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors Program

The SETI Institute’s NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (AAA) program is one of 23 programs competitively selected by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. These cooperative agreements more effectively engage learners of all ages with NASA science. Selections were made by the agency's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) in Washington, DC. AAA is funded under NASA SMD NNX16AC51A.

View/download full press release here:

About the SETI Institute

Founded in 1984, the SETI Institute is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary research and education organization whose mission is to lead humanity’s quest to understand the origins and prevalence of life and intelligence in the Universe and to share that knowledge with the world. Our research encompasses the physical and biological sciences and leverages expertise in data analytics, machine learning and advanced signal detection technologies. The SETI Institute is a distinguished research partner for industry, academia and government agencies, including NASA and NSF.

Contact information

Rebecca McDonald

Director of Communications

SETI Institute

Dr. Dana Backman

AAA Principal Investigator

SETI Institute

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