Tennessee Educational Association Article


Leesa Hubbard is Tennessee’s first recipient of the prestigious Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship and has recently returned home from Washington D.C. where she represented the education profession at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). A Vanderbilt graduate and special education resource teacher at Wilson Central High School in Lebanon, Mrs. Hubbard believes the purpose of education is to instill in students a desire to explore the unknown, to do what one has never done before, whether that be conquering the Pythagorean theory in math, performing an experiment in science, or writing a research paper in English. Every time a student experiences an ah-ha moment in the classroom, he has become an intellectual explorer, and the natural high that results from tasting new knowledge for the first time is addictive and infinitely productive.

Among the significant contributions Hubbard made to the field of education as an Einstein Fellow was her involvement with the Educator Astronaut Program, a program designed to give outstanding teachers full astronaut training and space crew membership. Hubbard worked closely with Barbara Morgan, the first Educator Mission Specialist scheduled to take flight with a NASA space crew in the near future, and with Leland Melvin, a NASA astronaut and engineer.

Looking back on her experiences as an Einstein Fellow, Hubbard explains her new perspective on the teaching profession and on teachers’ potential to be heroic in the same capacity as the larger-than-life men and women who make up the space program.  “In order to understand why educator astronauts are so grand, you have to realize that exploration involves sacrifice. My sacrifice when I accepted the Eisenhower Fellowship meant not being able to sleep in my own bed and being away from people I loved for ten months,” explained Hubbard. “With NASA astronauts, they risk their lives for the sake of exploration and adventure, and kids consider them heroes. Educator astronauts are evidence that teachers are every bit as important as scientist and doctors – they’re heroes, too.”

When Hubbard applied for the Albert Eisenhower Distinguished Educator Fellowship, which was signed into law in November 1994, working with NASA was not a guarantee, even though it was her ultimate goal and hope for placement. Throughout her teaching career, she has always opted for science based professional development opportunities and proudly calls herself a “space geek.” However, selected teachers for the fellowship are chosen to spend a school year with one of several organizations. They are assigned either to a Congressional Office, the Department of Energy (DOE), or to a federal agency such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), or the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).  

Once Hubbard received her placement at NASA, her most comprehensive project was to be a member of the Odyssey team. She was one of two teachers on a ten-member task team whose main objective was to determine application requirements for future educators in space. One of the most important tasks the team tackled was contributing to the creation of the Educator Astronaut Program website at http://edspace.nasa.gov. She explains the goals of the Odyssey team: “There are certain things that are standard in astronaut core, like the flight physical they have to pass and things like that, but this is different. Not only are they part of the astronaut core, they’re also educators. When we designed the website we did it with teachers and kids in mind.”

            For information about the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship, visit http://www.trianglecoalition.org/ein.htm