Graduate has dedicated herself to educating the public about space—first as a student, then a professional, and now as a NASA Solar System Ambassador.
Sarah Vise, ’19, never wanted to be on a stage.
She didn’t like public speaking. The mere idea of a presentation made her nervous, and she would much rather have stayed out of the spotlight.
Now, she is a Solar System Ambassador for NASA and an educator at Science Central in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She regularly gives presentations at Science Central, in elementary schools, and at community events, and loves every second of it.
Discovering Her Voice at the Planetarium
Once or twice in a lifetime, there is a turning point. An event, an experience, an interaction so profound that shifts our trajectory.
We often find some way to memorialize the occasion. To keep it in front of us so that we never forget the path we are on. It might be a wedding photograph on a mantle, a childhood ballet slipper tucked on the top shelf of a closet, or a diploma hanging on the wall.
For Sarah Vise, it’s a tattoo of the GOTO CHRONOS II Hybrid projector in the Ball State Charles W. Brown Planetarium. Her four years working, learning, and growing at the Planetarium were so profound that she wanted to keep it with her at all times, for the rest of her life.
At freshman orientation at Ball State, a professor saw Ms. Vise’s excitement about space exploration and recommended that she apply for a job at the Brown Planetarium. The Brown Planetarium sees an average of 20,000 visitors a year to its public shows and school programs, presented by the Planetarium professional staff and four undergraduate student employees. These four student employees go through an extensive application process to be selected.
According to Planetarium Director Dayna Thompson, MS ’12, Ms. Vise is the only freshman student who ever expressed interest and completely followed through with the application process in their freshman year.
And her enthusiasm didn’t stop there. Ms. Vise quickly outgrew the initial role of greeting people at the shows, and soon she was communicating to the public at programs and activity stations. Ms. Vise attributes her rapid growth to Ms. Thompson’s encouragement and mentorship.
“I was a very shy kid when I started, I could barely give a public presentation. Ms. Thompson really did push me to just do it and get over my fear. And now I can talk for days to the public,” said Ms. Vise. “I’m grateful she pushed me when I was uncomfortable because I found out that I actually could reach the community and could teach people. I found out that I had something to say.”
It was leading the activity stations to the public and school children where Ms. Vise hit her stride. She repackaged laboratory experiments for college students into activities for the public, such as the creation of a cloud chamber activity for the Halloween show that showed visitors how dry ice can be used to detect sub-atomic particles, fittingly called ghost particles. She developed educational materials and guidelines for numerous current and future activity stations during her four years at the planetarium.
Sarah Vise’s drive and respectful questions toward Ms. Thompson improved the entire student training process. “Because of her questions and her perspective, I’m a better mentor and better instructor,” Ms. Thompson said. “She helped develop future training materials that are still in use—physical materials that students could take home and learn from.”
Recognizing Ms. Vise’s potential, Ms. Thompson took additional steps to mentor and provide opportunities for her.
“I was, at the time, only one of a few female students in the department of Physics and Astronomy,” Ms. Vise said. “I think that Dayna recognized that as a woman in Physics and Astronomy herself, she knew I needed to impress everyone to make it big. So, she took me under her wing and gave me all of these great experiences. We went to conferences together, from local Indiana planetarium conferences to a national planetarium conference in Saint Louis. She took me to a ton of conferences to meet people, to get my name out there, to get my experiences in, and to get my foot in the door. And it’s paid off. I feel like I just took off during my time at the planetarium. Not just doing shows, but being out in the world as a planetarian.”
With her increased confidence and growing passion for educating the public, Ms. Vise took a leadership role in the Ball State Society for Physics Students group and directed their time toward community outreach. She networked, planned, developed, and gave science demonstrations at daycares and local schools throughout Delaware County, Indiana.
From a first-year student afraid of speaking to a regular presenter and facilitator of public science demonstrations and activities, Sarah Vise experienced a transformation while a student at Ball State.
Representing NASA as a Solar System Ambassador
After graduating, Ms. Vise landed a position at the Fort Wayne Science Center as a Technology Programs and Volunteer Manager. In this role, she continues the work that she was mentored and trained in, creating and presenting large community education programs to spark the mind and inspire the intellect of both school groups and the public.
It is because of these years of community education outreach, both at Ball State University’s Brown Planetarium and the Fort Wayne Science Center, that Ms. Vise has recently become a NASA Solar System Ambassador (SAS). This coveted volunteer position is part of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s public outreach program, which empowers community members across the country to educate their local communities about space exploration and STEM fields.
Ms. Vise was hand-selected for the program due to her experience, dedication, and passion for a sustainable future of space exploration.
Since she first started at Ball State, Ms. Vise has been following the lead of her mentor Ms. Thompson, and the entire University, in focusing on community engagement and partnership. Now, in her role as Solar System Ambassador, she will carry forward the principles of Beneficence that she learned working at the Planetarium, educating underprivileged and underserved community children to teach them about the wonders of space and the importance of the work of NASA.
Already in her role, she has been asked the question that is on some people’s minds: ‘why should we care? Can it be wasteful to launch things into space when we have limited resources on Earth?’
For this, Ms. Vise tells them the same thing she told NASA on her application for the job: “Space exploration, while it does use Earth’s limited resources, is so much more than just sending something to space to take some pretty pictures and call it a day. Space fills humanity’s need for exploration; the need to seek out the unknown, which has driven all of us to become better explorers and scientists. And for me, as an environmentalist and as someone who wants to explore space, it’s important to figure out ways of doing it that don’t harm the environment and waste resources. So, I view this role as showing people the wonders that humans are capable of and inspiring them to join in. It will one day be possible to explore space without being wasteful. And we may not have figured it all out yet, but if I can inspire them, if I can get them thinking, then maybe someone I encounter will go on to help solve that problem.”
The Inspirational Power of Women in STEM
Ms. Vise’s work with Science Central recently brought her back to her hometown of Yorktown in Delaware County, running a seven-week science education summer program that showcased STEM opportunities and experiences.
Every weekend for seven weeks, Ms. Vise drove an hour and a half in a big, blue, decaled Science Central van to Yorktown to run these programs. And it was during one of those weekends that she was approached by a middle school girl.
Several years prior, Ms. Vise had volunteered to go to East Washington Academy to give a science demonstration about physics to a group of elementary school students. Given Ms. Vise’s track record for giving powerful presentations, it is no surprise that she inspired several of the kids in that class. And one of them was this girl, who had been in that class years ago and heard that Sarah Vise was coming to Yorktown to give a presentation. So, this girl made sure to be there. The girl, now in middle school, approached Ms. Vise after her demonstration and told her that because of that visit to her elementary school class years ago, she now wants to pursue a career in science.
Ms. Vise was so moved that she now regularly correspondences with the girl, even gifting the student her first telescope last Christmas.
“Just knowing that there is this one girl in my hometown that knows my name and knows what she wants to do—and that she can do it—that’s what I want to do as a person,” Ms. Vise said. “I want to motivate these kids and make them aware of their power. I found that out during my time at the Brown Planetarium: nothing feels better than talking to a young girl about the things she can do in science and seeing her light up with the thought of being an astronaut, studying astronomy, or being an engineer on a Mars rover team. So, every day that I am interacting with the public, that is at the front of my mind: making sure that I am represented, and that I am representing the future.”