Interview at AMNH

Where are you from?
New Jersey Describe the first time you made a personal connection with outer space. I was taking an Astronomy course at Bergen Community College and was instructed to visit an observatory to view 3 objects as part of a lab. I looked through the telescope and was amazed to see Saturn. I would not believe that I was viewing the actual planet and accused the observatory employee of pasting a photo on to the end of the telescope. I was so amazed that I could see Saturn and I wanted to share that experience with others. Soon after that trip, I was amazing others with Saturn through my own backyard telescope.

Who inspired you?
I am lucky to have several mentors who continue to guide and inspire me among them are: Kay Ferrari, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Dr. Roger Optsbaum. I also draw a lot of inspiration from Eleanor Roosevelt and Nicholas Copernicus.

However, the first person to ever inspire me was a teacher. When I was in high school, I had a French teacher named: Greta R. Ostrovsky. Each day she would tell the class, “do not be mediocre.” She would say that no matter what we did in our lives we should do it with vigor and above all never settle for mediocrity. Being a high school student, and also a homeless teen, I was more focused on how much longer I had to wait to eat lunch and less focused on Mrs. Ostrovsky’s message. Then one day, when I was in my twenties, I was thinking about my life and pondering which direction I should take and all of a sudden Mrs. Ostrovsky’s words came to me. Her message resonated with me as though the universe itself were singing her mantra through my soul and it all made sense. Overwhelmed by this epiphany, I hopped into my car determined to find her and tell her that I understood. I wanted to thank her for her words of wisdom which would become the personal words of wisdom I would live by in my own life and express to those whose lives I am fortunate to touch. Sadly, I was told that Mrs. Ostrovsky had passed away. Greta R. Ostrovsky was the first person to inspire me and believe that I could have a future beyond that which I could ever have imagined.

What do you do for a living?
I am a science educator and public speaker. I also hold the position of Observatory Specialist and Astronomy Educator at a local science center and observatory. In addition, I work as a Commander at the Buehler Challenger and Science Center in Paramus, NJ.

Which NASA volunteer program are you a member of?

  • NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassadors Program
  • NASA/JPL Solar System Educators Program
  • NASA Museum Alliance run by JPL

How did you end up joining that program?
I was volunteering at the American Museum of Natural History and was told that I should apply for the Solar System Ambassadors Program. Once I investigated the program I knew that the program would be a perfect fit for me. The program serves to inspire students to love science and seek STEM careers. The program’s mission to inspire people to love science coupled with the sense of national pride and patriotism I feel is associated with NASA made applying to the program an easy decision.

Tell us about a favorite moment as a volunteer.
I remember having a group that was blind followed by a group that was comprised of individuals that were non-verbal, and had physical and cognitive impairments. I was nervous that I would fail this population of students but after some trial and error I was able to open up the world of astronomy to all of them. When I saw the first spark of recognition in the eyes of one individual in particular, Zack, I knew that I was privileged to be a part of the EPO community and even more privileged to be given the opportunity to teach science to individuals with disabilities. Unfortunately, science is unavailable to many disabled people and when the universe is unveiled for them to experience they often become overwhelmed and develop a voracious appetite to learn more about the universe. All of my lectures and workshops have a Universal Instructional Design counterpart which enables me to share the wonders of the cosmos with as many audiences as possible.

If you were talking to a student interested in science, math or engineering, what advice would you give him/her?
Stay in school and keep your body and mind fit. Engage in the world around you. Explore every reasonable opportunity and some unreasonable opportunities as well. Be curious about the world and try to learn from every experience and from every person you encounter. Science, math and engineering will open up a world of wonder and delight for you. Should you get discouraged along the way fall back on the knowledge that out of failure some of humanity’s greatest achievements have been forged. Above all, never settle for mediocrity. Live your live with vigor and go beyond what you think you cannot do.

What do you do for fun?
I love what I do so much that my work is my fun. The people in the EPO and science community are amazing and I always have such a good time with everyone. My life revolves around science and education and, therefore, I have the most fun when I am engaged in scientific exploration, teaching, and discovery. Most times, when I am not working, I serve as a volunteer doing the same job that I get paid for during the week.