Flavio Mendezen español
As the Education Coordinator, my job is to be the liasion between the Institute and the school systems, both at the local and national level. I am involved in teacher training (in-service and pre-service), student (school) presentations and electronic dissemination of information. I see myself as a "translator" -- I "translate" the knowledge acquired by the discoveries of the HST into a knowledge that students and teachers can use in the classroom setting.
Since I was a little kid I always had a curiosity for space. What's out there? How does it feel to fly in space? I wanted to be an astronaut. The truth is that my dream of being an astronaut dissapeared a few minutes after my first experience in a roller coaster ride. I felt sick and thought -- no way I'm getting up in spaceship! But I still wanted to know about space, so I started thinking about my options: astronomer, engineer, maybe a combination. All astronauts need a team of people to get them up there -- I'll be part of that team, I said to myself. I started learning more about it through books, movies and encyclopedias. I remember keeping a scrapbook of news and photos of space-related missions. I clearly remember the 1st Space Shuttle launch on April 12, 1981; it really grabbed my imagination.
I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The opportunities of space-related jobs there are very limited. In Arecibo, there is a Radio-Astronomy Observatory; I thought of the possibility of working there. In 1987 I went to the Florida Institute of Technology and after 4.5 years I got my B.S. in Space Sciences -- a mix of everything: astronomy, engineering, computer science, physics. I also had a lot of fun there -- I met people from all over the United States and the world; visited the Kennedy Space Center during a space shuttle launch, both day and nightime launch; got to travel accross the United States; worked at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ for ten weeks doing an Internship looking for asteroids; got to observe at Palomar Observatory in California.
After all these experiences and having problems in getting a space-related job, I started volunteering at an elementary School as a teacher assistant in my free time: Discovery Elementary, Palm Bay, FL. There, I "discovered" a passion for teaching that I didn't know I had in me. I decided to start a Masters in Education as a second career while I still looked for a space-related job. That's when I was hired by ST ScI in 1992. I decided to postpone my Masters in Education and give space a shot, but my passion for teaching was still alive.
During my first two years at the Institute, and while working in the Guidestars group, I volunteered to do school presentations around the Baltimore area. I also started coaching little league softball. I enjoyed being around young people and trying to teach them what I knew. All people learn things in different ways -- the trick is to find the way for each and every person -- that's what, in my opinion, makes teaching an exciting job.
In 1995, I moved to the OPO and found myself with the opportunity to combine space and education in one job. Great! By the way, I also decided to go back to school (UMBC) to do a Masters in Education and become more knowledgeable in that subject to best fulfill my obligations at ST ScI. My expected date of graduation is sometime in 1997.
The best thing about my job is being able to combine two things that I enjoy doing very much: learning about astronomy and talking to people about it. Working in the HST project is very exciting. You get to see the images taken by the telescope and then you can actually walk to the astronomer's office who coordinated the observations and ask her/him questions about them. This makes the connection between the scientist and the science very real. Then, my job is to "translate" that conversation with the astronomer in a way that a student can understand it -- in a way that is meaningful to you.
The least thing that I like about my job: this is a tough question. I could say that I would like that Baltimore had better weather --it is too cold here for me (remember I'm from the Caribbean). The other thing that I could think about is not being able to supply the demand for questions, phone calls, and requests for visits. A lot of people call and write with good questions, comments or requests. Our group is up made of only five people and we do our best in trying to disseminate the information, knowledge and images taken by the HST the best we can. I just wish that we had more people working in our group so that we could service the public even better.
I remember looking through the encyclopedia (World Book) to read about the Apollo missions to the moon and to learn about the planets. I also remember watching the movie Star Wars; that enhanced my imagination. I am not a person that reads a lot. I am a good visual and auditive learner -- I have good memory. But I also recognize the importance to learn where to find things when I need them. I was always good at math, science and social studies (history).
As a teenager I was a member of a latin-dance band. I went around playing the drums (timbales and congas) at people's weddings and private parties. This hobby helped me lose the "stage fear". I feel very comfortable in talking to large groups of people -- this helps when I go out to schools for teacher training or for classroom presentations.
If you had the motivation to learn more about space or education (teaching), I would suggest to learn as much math, and science as possible. But, also try to get into as many extracurricular activities as you can. Learn how to work in teams, be a good leader as well as a good team member. That's why I like Baseball and Softball so much -- they are real team sports. I would also suggest to learn as much as you can about computers (not only games) and the things you can do with them. It is amazing how fast technology changes these days and how hard it is to keep up with the changes.
My parents were always very supportive of my different hobbies (space scrapbook, music, sports). My teachers were also very good -- they knew a lot about space. I have learned the most in the last few years while working here at ST ScI and by having to teach other people about it. I strongly believe that you learn about a topic more when you have to explain it to someone else.