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Meet: Liza Coe

a photo of liza coe

Director, California Air & Space Center Teacher Institute

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The California Air & Space Center (CASC) is a non-profit educational and entertainment resource intended to serve the local San Francisco Bay Area as well as the state of California and the Nation. The concept is being spearheaded by NASA Ames Research Center in partnership with the cities of Mountain View and Sunnyvale. The historic Hangar 1 (a former dirigible hangar that is so big it could easily fit three Titanics inside!) will be filled with displays and activities highlighting America's achievements in aeronautics and space. Displays might include a full-size space shuttle and space station along with many historic and modern research aircraft. If you're interested in aerospace this will be THE place to see in Silicon Valley!

One component of the CASC is the Teacher Institute which I am responsible for designing and developing. The focus of the Teacher Institute will be the creation of partnerships between educators and NASA that support the education process and increase teachers' access to scientific knowledge and the world of research. We hope to integrate the science knowledge and research techniques of NASA with the pedagogical knowledge of teachers to develop content rich problem- and project-based curricula under the guidance of national and state standards and frameworks.

In addition to my duties at NASA I am also a second-year doctoral student in the Stanford University School of Education where my program area is curriculum and teacher education in science. My research area of interest involves bringing the exciting world of NASA research into classrooms using inquiry-based curriculum and web-based pedagogical tools. It is my hope that the fascinating reality of the processes used by scientists and engineers will intrigue even the students who "hate science and math" and excite their natural curiousity and desire to discover the unknown around them. The cycles of successes and mistakes, great achievement and agonizing frustration, the expected and the "surprises" aren't visible to those outside of real laboratories - our traditional science education does a poor imitation in school science labs. Thus, my goal is to make the reality of NASA research accessible to teachers and students and to help teachers from all grade levels adapt and incorporate it into their curriculum.

My Career
I spent the first part of my career working in the Vertical Motion Simulator at Ames. I was responsible for the development of the computer generated out-the-window scenes in the simulator cockpits and for the Head-Up and Head Down displays. One of my favorite projects was working on the design of the Head-Up displays for the Space Shuttle. Working with database designers, programmers and engineers to provide adequate visual cueing for the pilots in the out-the-window scenes was also a great challenge.

As my responsibilities grew, I worked more and more in the management of the graphics facilities instead of the day-to-day development. I missed working in the lab on individual projects, but being in management gave me the opportunity to specify, select and acquire new graphics systems and to work to ensure that the objectives of the simulation programs were met. After many years in flight simuation management I decided to investigate a whole new set of aeronautics facilities - the wind tunnels. I worked with the programmers, engineers and technicians who are responsible for the software and instrumentation that is used for the wind tunnel tests. One of the most interesting projects was entering into the day-to-day life of wind tunnel testing to discover how it could be done more efficiently.

After spending over 20 years in the technical world of aeronautics I decided that it was time to try something new and I began to investigate the world of education. For several years, outside of my day job, I taught math, tutored high school students and coached junior volleyball - so it was natural for me to want to make the link between what I did during the day and what I did in the evening! I took a year-long leave-of-absence from NASA and earned a Master's Degree in Education at Stanford as well as my secondary teaching credential in math and computer science. Upon returning to NASA I moved to the Education Office where I am today.

Career Preparation
As a youngster I liked to do all kinds of puzzles (and still do!) and I loved airplanes. My first airplane ride was at the age of seven weeks! I can still remember my parents driving my sister and I to San Francisco Airport to see the first Boeing 747. Probably my biggest influence towards my career was my Dad. He worked for NASA for over 40 years. One of his later projects was instrumenting the tiles of the Space Shuttle so they could be tested in a wind tunnel. A wonderful memory of mine is going to Dryden Flight Research Center to see the first landing of the Space Shuttle. We got to stand alongside the runway with other NASA employees who had worked on the project. Everyone, especially my Dad, was very quiet when the voice communication with the astronauts was lost as the Shuttle descended through the atmosphere. Everyone was anxious that the new tiles worked as planned to shield the Shuttle from the intense heat of reentry. When the voice of Commander Young broke the silence a gigantic cheer went up from the crowd! This was followed by the two huge sonic booms that mark the Shuttles flight over the runway and into its landing pattern. After experiences like these, who wouldn't want to work for NASA?

While earning my undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering/Computer Science at the University of California at Santa Barbara, I had the opportunity to work as a junior programmer at NASA. This was an invaluable experience and I recommend that any students interested in a technical career try to get as much experience as possible while they are in college.

Even though I majored in EE/CS, I wasn't a nerd and enjoyed all of the aspects of university life. I mastered the art of studying on the beach and also played intercollegiate volleyball. Another piece of advice is to not get so focused on any one area that you lose sight of what else life has to offer! Particularly while you are a student, investigate many different ideas and participate in lots of different actitivties. You will eventually discover what you enjoy and where you want your career to start!


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