The SETI Institute has selected 30 teachers from 10 states as 2021 NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (AAAs). AAA is a professional development program for science teachers designed to improve science teaching and increase student learning and STEM engagement. This year’s expanded AAA program includes not only high school teachers but also middle school and community college teachers.


“Over its history, our NASA-funded AAA program has impacted tens of thousands of high school students through the immersive and inspirational experience of their teachers,” said Bill Diamond, CEO of the SETI Institute. “This powerful STEM program will allow the SETI Institute to help bring NASA science into classrooms across the country.”


AAA teachers receive training in astrophysics and planetary science. Their training includes a week-long STEM immersion experience at a NASA astronomy research facility such as the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). After their training, the AAAs teach a physical science curriculum module created by the SETI Institute that connects curriculum concepts to NASA- and SOFIA-enabled research.  WestEd education consultants assess the impact of the specialized curriculum module on student STEM learning and engagement. Past evaluations of the AAA program have shown statistically significant improvements in performance and STEM engagement among students whose teachers participated in the program.


“We are grateful that NASA will be funding the AAA program through 2025 and are especially excited to be adding middle school and community college teachers and their students,” 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 illuminate the value of scientific research and the wide variety of STEM career paths available to them.”


The school districts and organizations participating in the AAA program during 2021 are:

Anaheim Union High School District, California

Anchorage School District, Alaska
Anne Arundel Community College, Maryland 

Canyons School District, Utah

Chabot College, California

Cobb County Schools, Georgia
Fayette County Public Schools, Kentucky

Foothill-DeAnza Community College District, California
Fort Zumwalt School District, Missouri
Harmony Public Schools, Texas

William S. Hart Union High School District, California

MiraCosta Community College District, California

Northside Independent School District (San Antonio), Texas

San Mateo Community College District, California

Suffolk County Community College, New York

The Meadows School, Nevada

Washoe County School District, Nevada


The 30 teachers selected as 2021 Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors are listed and pictured below:


Beverly Berekian, Ball Junior High School, Anaheim, California

Alicia Black, Dubray Middle School, Saint Peters, Missouri

Frank Cascarano, Foothill College, Los Altos Hills, California

Clief Castleton, Hillcrest High School, Midvale, Utah

Fernando Cepeda, Harmony Science Academy – Dallas High, Dallas, Texas

Erik Conkey, North Valleys High School, Reno, Nevada

Wesley Cullen, Dubray Middle School, Saint Peters, Missouri

Dana Evans, Walton High School, Marietta, Georgia

Rica French, MiraCosta College, Oceanside, California

Marisa Heflin, Arroyo Seco Junior High School, Santa Clarita, California

Scott Hildreth, Chabot College, Hayward, California

Kathleen Kraus, Wallace B. Jefferson Middle School, San Antonio, Texas

Deborah Levine, Anne Arundel Community College, Arnold, Maryland

David Marasco, Foothill College, Los Altos Hills, California

Stephen Martin, Damonte Ranch High School, Reno, Nevada

Linda Martinez, Harmony Science Academy – San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas

Geoffrey Mathews, Foothill College, Los Altos Hills, California

Milo Maughan, Corner Canyon High School, Draper, Utah

Jenny McCall, Winburn Middle School, Lexington, Kentucky

Tami McIntire, Palmer Middle School, Kennesaw, Georgia

Jason Patterson, Clark Middle School, Anchorage, Alaska

Zachary Richards, Suffolk County Community College, Brentwood, New York

Richard Rochin, Brookhurst Junior High School, Anaheim, California

Erin Schneider, Goldenview Middle School, Anchorage, Alaska

Darryl Stanford, College of San Mateo, San Mateo, California

Scott Trujillo, The Meadows School, Las Vegas, Nevada

Shelley Turski, La Mesa Junior High School, Santa Clarita, California

Shannon Ventresca, East Cobb Middle School, Marietta, Georgia

Stacy Wade-Robb, Rio Norte Junior High School, Santa Clarita, California

Pamela Word, Jay High School, San Antonio, Texas

Stacy Wade-Robb, Rio Norte Junior High School, Santa Clarita, California

Pamela Word, Jay High School, San Antonio, Texas



SOFIA is a Boeing 747SP aircraft modified to carry a telescope with an effective diameter of 100 inches. It is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, DLR. NASA Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the SOFIA program, science, and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart. The aircraft is maintained and operated from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center’s airborne science facility in Palmdale, Calif.

About the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program:The SETI Institute’s NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (AAA) program is one of ~30 awards to U.S. organizations competitively selected by NASA under the Science Activation program. These cooperative agreements more effectively engage learners of all ages with NASA science. Selections were made by the agency’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) in Washington, DC.  The AAA program is funded under NASA SMD NNX16AC51A. The NASA AAA program began in 2016.


About the SETI Institute: Founded in 1984, the SETI Institute is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary research and education organization whose mission is to explore, understand, and explain the origin and nature of life in the universe and the evolution of intelligence. Our research encompasses the physical and biological sciences and leverages expertise in data analytics, machine learning and advanced signal detection technologies. The SETI Institute is a distinguished research partner for industry, academia and government agencies, including NASA and NSF.


Contact information

Rebecca McDonald
Director of Communications
SETI Institute


Dr. Dana Backman
AAA Program Lead
SETI Institute