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photo of Liza with two sons and a desert turtle

Lizabeth K. "Liza" Coe, Ph.D.
Educator, NASA Ames Education Division

Spaceward Bound is an incredible opportunity for me to combine my love for exploration and travel with my passion for education and working with teachers!!

For over 25 years now, I’ve been making my way to NASA Ames Research Center in California nearly every weekday morning – with the exception of a few swing/graveyard shifts and vacations! I began my career designing and developing computer-generated imagery system (CGI) applications for flight simulation at NASA Ames’ Vertical Motion Simulator. This work included development of extremely high fidelity imagery for fixed wing and rotorcraft simulation, as well as head-up and head-down displays for the Space Shuttle and military applications. I later focused on incorporating graphic visual displays into wind tunnel data representation.

Prior to the arrival of my two sons I took advantage of every field science experience I could talk my way into. I spent several months on a tiny little island off the Katmai coast in Alaska excavating, identifying and cataloguing artifacts from an Indian civilization thousands of years old. Another favorite was spending a summer (their winter) in Western Australia tracing the Devonian extinction boundary in massive limestone and marble exposed reefs. Wanderlust has led me to spend many months (over time) working in and exploring the desert southwest as well as Alaska and, of course, California.

In 1993, I took leave for one year to attend Stanford’s Teacher Education Program (STEP) to earn a Master’s in Education as well as teaching credentials in mathematics and computer science. After returning to Ames, I joined the Education Division and focused on the development of teacher education workshops. However, I had been seriously bitten by the academia bug and returned to Stanford’s Ph.D. program in Curriculum and Teacher Education, focusing on science education.

My post-Ph.D. research has continued to focus on how teachers leverage informal education experiences inside their classrooms. For my dissertation I was lucky enough to be able to work with teachers who, with their students, participated in weeklong residential camps at the Marin Headlands – part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and one of the components of the environmental education-based NatureBridge organization. While about half of my research time was spent doing classroom observations and interviews, I got to spend the other half hiking around the gorgeous Headlands and learning as much natural science as I could absorb. My Ph.D. minor was in geology, so I got my fill of subduction zone morphology courtesy of the San Andreas Fault that has left its mark in numerous ways on the Headlands. The passion I observed in teachers who are driven to get their students out of the classroom doing real science, and the transformations I've witnessed in teachers and their teaching after Spaceward Bound expeditions, have left me with a renewed enthusiasm to connect teachers with science expeditions and support them in their quest to bring their experiences into the classroom. We utilize the concept of planetary analogs to frame the experience that provides incredibly rich cross-disciplinary content, concepts, processes and skills to support and enhance standards-based curriculum.

My time and energy outside of work is spent being mom to my two explorers-in-training. I am proud to say that they are world travelers and don’t think twice about taking long plane rides to interesting places. They were both born in Russia and have dragged their carry-ons with Mom to Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, Canada, Australia, and just about everyplace in between. While not traveling they go to school while Mom earns the money for the next trip!

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Editor: Linda Conrad
NASA Official: Liza Coe
Last Updated: May 2011