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Debbie Reynolds, a STEM teacher from Baldwin-Whitehall School District and one of just nine educators nationwide to receive the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship for 2019-20, is not the kind of person to let a global pandemic get in the way of a mission.
In mid-March of this year, Reynolds was forced to return four months early from her 11-month residency at the Department of Defense’s Naval Surface Warfare Center (NAVSEA) Carderock Division in Bethesda, MD, where she had been assigned to help evaluate their STEM and Outreach program as well as develop new naval-relevant content.
With a resume already the length of an aircraft carrier and having just returned from a summer teaching stint in China, Reynolds spent the last year in a whirlwind of professional and curriculum development that would make anyone’s head spin.
She attended briefings on Capitol Hill, met with the White House Office of Science Technology Policy, and even met Bill Nye at an intimate gathering at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory during a talk about the upcoming NASA Dragonfly mission to one of Saturn’s moons. And that’s just the professional development stuff.
You’re in the Navy now
At Carderock, a mostly civilian-run lab of scientists and engineers supporting the mission of the Navy, Reynolds got to experience things that would make any STEM fan swoon.
“Every single Navy ship or sub that’s ever been put into the water came through here as a model at some point to be tested,” Reynolds said. “So, we have this really cool basin here called the David Taylor Model Basin. It’s huge; it’s a mile long. And they do all the testing of all the ship models and sub models and things.”
Reynold’s role there was twofold: to help spread NAVSEA brand awareness (“When I got the emails for the interviews, I didn’t even know what NAVSEA was.”) and to develop and tighten up the curriculum the lab uses for visiting student groups or for when they push out into the community. That included coordinating STEM standards and curricula across all the NAVSEA labs.
“They’re really active in the community and do a lot of expos and conferences, and they go to schools and support different schools with SeaPerch or FIRST LEGO Robotics, things like that,” she said.
Obviously, all that got put on hold when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But that didn’t seem to slow Reynolds down one bit.
Full STEM ahead
Reynolds came home on “maximum telework” status, and immediately began writing a weekly article for the Command newsletter, Wavelets, called “Teaching from Home” that covered everything from teaching during quarantine to STEM-specific articles, to digital resources, to Naval history, to the historic launch with NASA and SpaceX – with which she was involved.
The nine Fellows in Reynold’s program met weekly through Zoom to share updates about their offices and their own professional development and ongoing work. They even hosted a monthly Twitter chat where they discussed various topics with other educators and partners who joined in.
Additionally, Reynolds participated in an Interagency Working Group (IWG) on Convergence and how to best serve educators, helped evaluate proposals through DOD and NASA, served as a subject matter expert for the NASA Space Apps Challenge-COVID-19 Hackathon in May, and helped with the National Science Bowl in June.
She was asked to become a contributing writer for the STEM Informer, which is sponsored by Newsweek, and will be working with a small team throughout the next year. And she rode out the rest of the summer working with Texas Space Grant on the NASA SEES Summer Internship program as a lead for the COVID-19 projects.
But wait, there’s more
Reynolds also joined the Pennsylvania Science Teachers Association (PSTA) as a board member and was on weekly virtual meetings during the pandemic as a member of the Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee (PTAC).
“I also participated in the Pittsburgh STEAM station daily videos and shared two videos for parents to use when teaching at home,” she said.
Her fellowship ended in mid-July, and she’s excited to bring her experiences - and her tireless work ethic - back to the students of the Baldwin-Whitehall School District this fall. She’s also eager to get the word out about this fellowship to other Pennsylvania educators.
“This fellowship has been a life-changing opportunity for me,” she said. “I will not look at education with the same eyes and have grown so much as an educational leader and as a person.”
For more on the fellowship and what Debbie Reynolds is up to now, connect with her on Twitter @STEMnaut.