Pa. high school teacher spending a year at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

October 12, 2007|By ASHLEY HARTMAN


The two-hour commute from Chambersburg, Pa., to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt doesn't seem to bother Tara Clopper, who began working there this year after taking a leave of absence from teaching at Greencastle-Antrim (Pa.) High School.

Clopper, who worked at the high school for five years, found out about the job opportunity at NASA because the high school is a NASA Explorer School.

The school board approved Clopper's one-year leave of absence in August.

"I had contacts at the Goddard center and they alerted me of the position, so I applied for the position," said Clopper, who works as the space science liaison from the education department at the center.


Greencastle-Antrim High School became a NASA Explorer School in 2004, which gave the school a three-year partnership with NASA. Over the three years, the high school has received $17,500 for technology as well as educational support from NASA.

"It was a good opportunity for our school to strengthen our science program," said Clopper, who taught earth science, astronomy and a women's science course.

As the space science liaison from the education department, Clopper works with schools and other employees at the center in education and public outreach.

"We are here to provide any services (schools) may need to help students succeed in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics," Clopper said. "We act as an intermediary between the science community and the educational community."

The flight center provides educational materials for schools in its region of 11 states and the District of Columbia as well as 13 NASA Explorer Schools. Clopper works closely with John Leck, a teacher on loan from Montgomery County who works as the earth science liaison from the education department.

"(Tara) just jumped in with both feet," Leck said. "She had an advantage because she worked with a NASA Explorer School (and) she's good at meeting new people."

Clopper said each day for her at NASA is different.

"A lot of times, we have meetings," Clopper said. "The rest of the time, I work reviewing educational products and work with schools to help them better utilize our services."

Clopper is working on a Web site that will have a nationwide curriculum of what concepts students should learn to truly understand earth and space science. Clopper also is working on organizing space days for students in Goddard's school region who won a contest where they designed a pennant for the STS118 shuttle mission with educator astronaut Barbara Morgan. Clopper works to submit proposals for funding for educational projects, works with local schools and gives an educator's perspective on NASA's educational materials.

"We have people from all sorts of backgrounds working here, from different countries (and) religions," Clopper said. "It's really cool getting to know people and their diverse backgrounds."

The center, which employees 10,000 people, has the largest number of earth scientists in the world and the largest known clean room in the world, where astronauts train and items are kept that will go into space. The center also communicates with the Hubble Telescope.

The building where Clopper works contains a science visualization studio, with satellite pictures of the ocean; a flight dynamics center, which makes sure satellites are properly launched; and a television center where NASA interacts with schools digitally.

Clopper hopes to be approved again next year to work at NASA and will bring what she learns back to Greencastle-Antrim High School.

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