Meet: Oran E. Cox
College Intern, Student Administrative Support Assistant
NASA Ames Research Center
Who am I?
I am a senior at San José State University and an intern at NASA
Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. I will be graduating next
spring with a degree in anthropology. I also have background within other
areas, such as computer science, materials science, chemistry and English.
My official title is student administrative support assistant. I support
NASA's K-12 Internet Initiative and am a member of the S/MORE Development
Team, or SDT.
What Do I Do at NASA Ames?
If you are reading my biography right now, then you are also viewing
one of the products of my primary responsibility within the SDT. I am
responsible for producing the biographies and field journals of the S/MORE
team members, including my own! The process is very involved, and I'm
glad most of the work has now been completed. I also assist other members
of the SDT with developing and "upkeeping" this Web site, and am also
responsible for analayzing, interpreting and organizing feedback data
from previous Internet projects.
In order to add new participants to the S/MORE Website, I contact different
people whose work is in some way related to shuttle/Mir activities. This
means that potential participants must be contacted not only here at Ames,
but at other NASA centers as well. Volunteers are currently being recruited
from Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers.
If the contacts wish to participate, they have an option to either write
their own biography and field journals, or be interviewed by me. In both
instances, S/MORE participants respond to questions about their work and
Once the participants have answered the questions, the next step is the
review process. If the participants have written their own biographies
and field journals, they send them to me and I review and format them
for posting on the Internet. The documents are then reviewed by members
of the SDT and, lastly, by "offcial" reviewers within the K-12 group.
The official review team checks the documents for errors in spelling and
grammar, as well as clarity of information within the documents. However,
if the participants were interviewed by me, the process is somewhat more
S/MORE Interview Process and Anthropology
The process I use to conduct interviews is based on anthropological methodology.
This means that I conduct interviews in a way that encourages each interviewee
to talk about as many aspects of their lives as they can.
I try to conduct interviews using a tape recorder as often as possible
because I can't catch everything the interviewee says while taking notes.
But I still have to ask the interviewees' permission because some people
don't like being recorded. I meet with each participant at his or her
work site. This not only allows the interviewees to feel more comfortable
in familiar surroundings, but to worry only about the interview and not
about having to meet a stranger (me) at another location. If an interviewee
is located far away, such as in another state, I call him or her and ask
them if they are comfortable with being recorded on the telephone. If
they decline to be recorded, then I must try to write down as much as
During an interview, I ask the interviewees about their work and personal
lives, but allow them to respond however they wish. The interviews generally
last about an hour. At the conclusion of the interview, I thank the interviewee
for their help and participation in the project before returning to my
office. Thanking the interviewees for their time and participation is
important because many of them are very busy, and without their help,
we would not be able to have a S/MORE Internet project.
However, acknowledgement of S/MORE team members' participation and even
of those who have declined to participate is important because it establishes
a "link" between those involved, which is implicitly based on courtesy,
respect and professionalism. Therefore, a person or people who may have
declined participation in the S/MORE project at this time may choose to
participate at a later time, or in another Internet project in the future.
These types of concepts, relating to human interactivity, are areas that
are analyzed closely within anthropology. I think that my anthropological
background has greatly enhanced my ability to interact with the different
kinds of people in an environment such as NASA Ames.
Once I have completed an interview, I return to my office where I transcribe
the recorded interview. Transcribing means that I type the interviewee's
responses to the interview questions while listening to them on tape.
This part takes some extra time. I must stop and rewind a tape many times
if I cannot understand an interviewee's words or to make sure I have typed
their responses correctly and as close to their own words as possible.
After this is finished I send the typewritten documents to the interviewees
and they review them. If the interviewees wish to make any changes they
inform me and I make the changes. The documents are then put through the
review process I described earlier and later posted to the S/MORE web
What I Most Like About My Work
I am very pleased with the information provided by the S/MORE team relating
to their personal and work lives. Many of them have been open and honest
about their work and have described themselves as what I would call "real
people." I think discussion of their personal perspectives has allowed
them to show themselves as "living, breathing and thinking" human beings
and not "just scientists."
I'm also glad to see that many on the S/MORE team have felt comfortable
enough to discuss certain "sensitive" issues, such as racial and gender
issues, that are important or close to them, with millions of people.
I think their acknowledgement of the obstacles they have faced in these
areas, but have not been defeated by, is very important to share with
I'm hoping that my involvement with the S/MORE project has somehow allowed
others on the team to reach people at and outside of NASA that, until
now, may not have realized what types of things happen and people are
involved in making the space program successful.
What I Least Like About My Work
I think the hardest part of my work is trying to coordinate with S/MORE
team members for interviews and updates on their work. Many of them are
very busy, especially when a mission is being planned or when a shuttle
launch is near. The process of communicating with them can be frustrating.
I'd have to say that patience really plays a part in my work because results
are not instantaneous. But I think the results are worth it.
My Advice to Young People
I think this is best answered in the form of what is called a "life history"
in anthropology. However, the following could probably be called a mini-life
I am not a "traditional student" at 26 years old. I graduated from James
Lick High School in San José, Calif. in 1988. I entered Marquette
University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the fall of that year. I was very
homesick and the weather was incredibly cold during winter. I returned
home in fall 1989, just as my sophomore year was beginning, due to a very
bad illness. I was out of school for the entire semester. (Interestingly
enough, I had returned home just in time to experience the Loma Prieta
earthquake two weeks later. My timing was impeccable!)
I entered a local community college in spring 1990 and stayed until transferring
to San José State in fall 1991.
I continued in computer science when I restarted school in San Jose.
However, three years later, I realized that I was not as enthusiastic
about it as I had been previously. At one point, I even got kicked out
of the computer science program because I was simply disinterested and
allowed my grades to slip. (Not cool for someone who was voted "Most Likely
to Succeed" by his senior class!) However, this was probably the best
scenario that could have happened to me because I was forced to look at
what I really wanted to do with my life.
I realized that I had tried to pattern myself after other members of
my family who had attended famous universities (i.e. Stanford), majored
in science or engineering, finished their education in exactly four years,
and received job offers upon graduating from college. Therefore, I believed
that in order to be "good," I had to be just like them (even my youngest
Fortunately, I discovered anthropology just in time to save myself any
further damage, and found an area that I was comfortable with. Although
I received a lot of criticism from others for changing my major so late
in my academic career, and to a "soft major," I realized that I needed
to do what was right for me. Now, I am preparing to graduate next spring
with additional research experience in molecular modeling, academic publications,
and invaluable experience from working at many Silicon Valley companies,
utilizing my diverse academic background. These are only a few accomplishments
I have made since following my own instincts, and I believe things will
only get better.
The moral of this story is to follow what you believe is best for you.
People will offer you suggestions pertaining to what they believe are
better alternatives for you, or criticize your life choices throughout
your life. However, as long as the United States rewards individualistic
ideals, you are ultimately responsible for choosing your own path in life.
Therefore, if you are willing to work hard to achieve your goals, then
you can be successful at whatever you pursue. The road may not be an easy
one, but just keep pushing for what you want and never forget where you
ultimately want to be.
My parents are retired and live in Natchitoches, Louisiana, which is
north of New Orleans. I have four sisters and a brother. My father is
originally from Louisiana and my mother from Texas. My parents have been
married for 35 years. My two oldest sisters were born in Oakland, Calif.
and my other sisters, brother and I in San José.
My oldest sister graduated from Santa Clara University in 1983 with a
degree in Computer Science. She lives in Danville, Calif. and is a manager
at a major high-tech company in the Bay Area. My second oldest sister
graduated from Stanford in 1984 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.
She now lives in Omaha, Nebraska, and is also a manager at a major coporation.
She travels frequently and was recently married.
My brother lives in San José and like me, is continuing to pursue
his degree. He is majoring in business and works as well. In addition
to his many daily responsibilities, my brother cares for the family dog,
Anxious, who actually belongs to my sister living in Omaha. (Anxious is
still very upset with me for moving out a year and a half ago.)
The fourth youngest is another sister who graduated from Santa Clara
in 1991 with degrees in Communication and Psychology. She lives in Castro
Valley, Calif. with her cat, Bumps. She has her own consulting business
and is also pursuing a performance career. (Check out her Website at http://pages.prodigy.com/johne/jozelle.html.)
I live by myself in a small apartment in San José and have been
there for one and a half years. In addition to my work at NASA, I work
with a chemistry professor and have been for the last three and a half
I jog three times a week to keep in shape and work out in a gym in my
apartment building on weekends, but I still love eating pizza once in
awhile! Although I do not watch much televsion, I do enjoy watching PBS
programs, "Murphy Brown," "The X-Files," and of course "STAR TREK!"
I'd say my most peculiar recreational activity is reading the Sunday
newspaper. When I was living with my brother, I always reserved Sunday
mornings for drinking coffee and reading the newspaper for two hours with
Anxious. Although I still have coffee and read the newspaper on Sundays,
it's not the same without Anxious and the peaceful environment of our
My youngest sister just moved back to the Bay Area after living in San
Diego for about two years. She graduated from Stanford University in 1993,
with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. She works as an engineer at a
high-tech company in the Bay Area.
March 1996: Oran, Dad and Mom in New Orleans, LA
I do not see my family very often, I was fortunate enough to visit my
parents in March of this year. I was in New Orleans to present an anthropological
research project at the 211th Annual American Chemical Society Conference.
My parents drove five hours from northern Louisiana to New Orleans just
to see me. I brought them t-shirts from the College of Science at San
José State, which they dressed in promptly and sported throughout
downtown New Orleans. I was very glad to see them and I hope to be able
to see them again soon.
the meantime, I continue to call my parents every so often and write letters.
My sisters are fortunate enough to be able to travel and see my parents
much more frequently than my brother and I are. In fact, one of my sisters
is preparing to see them in mid-October. She is going to try to get them
"hooked-up" with e-mail and Internet access. This would be great! Not
only could they then check out all the work I've done here at NASA, but
it would be an excellent way for my brother and sisters and I to keep
in greater contact with our parents, and would be much less expensive
than calling every few weeks. But I'm not complaining, Mom!