Three Cobb High School Teachers Selected to Fly on NASA’s SOFIA as Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors

Once again, Cobb County School teachers will suit up as NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors. The elite group of Ambassadors only includes 28 teachers nationwide and three of the educators teach Cobb students: 

  • Doug LaVigne, Kell High School 
  • Heather Guiendon, Walton High School 
  • Starrissa Winters, Wheeler High School 

The Cobb County School District is the only metro-Atlanta school district participating and is one of only two in the entire state of Georgia. Last year, four Cobb Schools teachers served as NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors.  

The NASA Ambassador program is a professional development opportunity for high school science teachers designed to improve science teaching and learning and increase student engagement in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).  

The Cobb teachers along with teachers from 12 other states will participate in a week-long immersion training experience at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center Hangar 703 in Palmdale, California. They will suit up for research flights on NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). The program culminates in classroom delivery of a SOFIA science-oriented curriculum module.  

“The program is an amazing opportunity for our teachers to bring real-world experience back to the classroom. We are excited that our partnership with NASA and SETI gives our educators a chance to show their students the practical and impactful applications of what they learn in the classroom,” said Christian Cali, Cobb Schools Science Supervisor.  

The NASA Ambassadors will undergo training in astrophysics and planetary science content and pedagogy. After their flights, they will return to their classrooms prepared to teach a two-week physical science curriculum module created by the SETI Institute that focuses on the electromagnetic spectrum using SOFIA science examples as illustrations.  

“We are delighted that this new AAA cohort expands the program’s geographical reach and includes teachers from 13 states,” said Dr. Dana Backman, AAA program lead. “These teachers will use their professional development and SOFIA experiences to convey real-world content to their students that illuminates the value of scientific research and the wide variety of STEM career paths available to them.” 

A Look Back at Cobb’s 2019 NASA Ambassadors 

Before Cobb’s current crew of NASA Ambassadors embark on their learning adventure, there are four Cobb teachers who can tell them what they are about to experience. They can tell them what it’s like to board NASA’s highly-modified Boeing 747SP airliner dubbed SOFIA—the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.  

They can share what it is like to have access to a 2.5-meter (100-inch) telescope that uses seven cameras and spectrographs to study celestial objects at infrared wavelengths.  

They can also give the new ambassadors tips on how to incorporate what they learn into their classroom lessons.  

Kennesaw Mountain High School teachers Berkil Alexander and Philip Matthews both sported NASA flight jackets in 2019 as did Hillgrove High School’s Nikki Bisesi and Wheeler High School’s Season Stalcup. 

Cobb Schools Science Supervisor Christian Cali also hitched a ride with the NASA Ambassadors for part of their flight mission.  

Here’s a look at some of what they experienced once they arrived at the Armstrong Flight Research Center in Fall 2019.