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Meet: Oran E. Cox

College Intern, Student Administrative Support Assistant
NASA Ames Research Center

photo of oran cox

My Journals
Updated profile!

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 personal lives.

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 complicated.

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 I can.

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.

Post-Interview Process

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 site. Whew!

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 young people.

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 history.

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 sister.)

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.

Personal Stuff

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 years.

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 neighborhood.

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

oran with his fatherAlthough 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.

Oran with  his motherIn 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!


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