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WGU Graduate Speaker, Laura Barber, Winter 2008
WGU Graduate Speaker, Laura Barber, Winter 2008
Western Governors University
<p>As a child, Laura Barber was convinced she was going to be an astronaut. She studied the stars, planets, moons and rockets. She slept with pictures of the Challenger crew around her bed. Even when she watched the shuttle explode in her grade school class, she wasn't swayed.</p> <p>Laura took every class that her tiny rural school could provide and even took 6 am satellite-based math classes, knowing she was advancing her chances for success in college. In her sophomore or junior year, she got hold of an astronaut candidate application. It was the first real sorrow that dashed her dream. It stated that people applying to the program must be at least five feet, five inches tall and have nearly perfect eye sight. Laura was prescribed her first pair of glasses when she was five and at five feet, three inches tall, all the genetics for height went to her sisters.</p> <p>"In true teenage girl fashion, I was crushed. Everything I worked for was taken away," said Laura. "But with a few reminders from teachers and my parents, I decided to focus on the science of the mission and not on the space flight so I could still be involved with space exploration."</p> <p>She decided to attend Eastern Oregon University to study physics. She intended to continue her education in Fairbanks, Alaska, to study upper atmospheric physics and other topics related to the aurora. But life happened. She married her husband in her junior year and graduated while she was seven months pregnant with their first child. Alaska would have to wait.</p> <p>"It took a little while to adjust to a life without academics, but I loved the time I had with my son and husband," said Laura. "I knew I made the right choice, but still missed my old dream."</p> <p>She was given a chance to re-focus when the superintendent of her old high school was in need of a science teacher with school starting in just a few weeks. She was granted an emergency teaching license and was given full responsibility for the middle and high school science classes. Because it was only an emergency credential, she would need to gain a full teaching license in order to keep her job permanently.</p> <p>"It was a lucky search that led me to WGU, and I was instantly intrigued by the program and the fact that I never would have to attend class on a campus," said Laura. "I was working and had a growing family and needed something I could complete on my time and at my own pace."</p> <p>Now having earned in master's of arts in teaching science, Laura has taken one step toward her dream of exploring space, but in a wonderful alternative way. Now, as a teacher, her most valuable accomplishment has been working with NASA's THEMIS program. It allows her to help interpret NASA activities and accomplishments and explain it in ways young schoolchildren can understand.</p> <p>What the future holds is a mystery. She is working towards a certificate in metrology; however, just the other day she heard that NASA is accepting applications for the astronaut candidate program, but with welcome requirement changes. This time, corrective eye surgeries are acceptable and the new shuttle has adjustable seats.</p> <p>Barber earned hew Master of Arts, Teaching, Science Education degree. <p>Transcription of video:</p> <p>I want to first and foremost congratulate all of the graduates today. We have worked hard, we've reached our goals, and attained our dreams. It was not always easy, but we did it. Many thanks also need to go to my husband and my two children. They helped me in countless ways, and always offered support and encouragement. Please don't forget that you are my motivation and always the focus of my dreams.</p> <p>I also need to express my sincere gratitude to the staff and faculty of WGU. You each helped to make this day a possibility and a reality for so many of us. Thank you. And to my mentor, Stan, thank you so much for your constant support, encouragement, patience, and the occasional reminders of goal timelines and deadlines. [Laughter] Without your help, I'm sure I would not have made it. Thank you.</p> <p>Okay. Like all of us, I'm here because I had a goal and a bit of a dream. Throughout my life, I've had many dreams. Some that have been short-lived, some not completely thought through, and others that have provided me with the motivation and drive I needed to get where I am today. As a kid, I was the one that was convinced they were going to be an astronaut. I studied stars, planets, distant moons, rocket design, the whole thing. I was a member of the Young Astronauts Program and slept with pictures of the Challenger crew around my bed. Even when the shuttle exploded on live TV in front of my grade school class, I was not swayed. If anything, it made me study harder.</p> <p>I moved into junior high and high school still with this dream in mind. I took every class that my tiny little school district that could provide, including 6:00 a.m. satellite-based advanced math and science classes, knowing that I was bettering my chances at success in college and attaining my dream.</p> <p>It was somewhere around my sophomore or junior year that I got a hold of an astronaut candidate application. It was the first real blow to my dream that I couldn't fix. In addition to the general education expectations, it very clearly stated that the people applying to the program must be at least five-foot-five-inches, and have nearly perfect eyesight. I got my first pair of glasses when I was five years old, and as far as I could tell, the genetics for height that I needed had all gone to my sisters. [Laughter]</p> <p>At first, I was very frustrated and disappointed. And in true teenage girl fashion, it felt to me that all I had worked for and studied towards had been taken away, and I could do nothing about it. After a bit of time and a couple reminders from my teachers and parents that the engineers and doctors responsible for astronauts most likely had good reasons for their requirements and were not conspiring against me, I found new focus. I could still be part of space exploration if I worked more towards the science of the missions instead of focusing only on space flight. I could be the one that designed the experiments and evaluated the data. I might not be able to be there myself, but my ideas could be.</p> <p>This was the dream that motivated me as I entered college and worked my way through a degree in physics. I felt like everything was falling not place, and I would soon be on my way to graduate school and my dream of a career in space science. What I didn't realize was that life has its own plans. I didn't spend my time solely in the physics lab while I was in college. [Laughter] And it was during one winter on a nearby ski slope that I met and fell in love with my wonderful husband. We soon married and had a son shortly after I graduated.</p> <p>It was this wonderful twist of fate that forced me to take a really hard look at my dreams for my career and what was best for my new family. I compromised by telling myself and others that I would just take a little break. I would stay home with my son while he needed me, and then I would pick up my graduate studies later.</p> <p>It took a little while, but I adjusted to life out of academics. I loved the time I had with my husband and son, but also felt a bit like I needed some more direction and focus in my life. I knew I'd made the right choice, but I still missed my old dream. But not all hope was lost. I was given an opportunity to refocus when I got a phone call from the superintendent of my old high school. The start of the school year was just a few weeks away, and he was still in need of a science teacher. He offered me the position, and I accepted. I was granted an emergency teaching license, and given full responsibility for the middle and high school science classes. This meant teaching six different science classes every day ranging from middle school life science to junior/senior physics. To say it was a challenge is an understatement, but it gave me the chance to share my love of science and learning with the next generation. I had found a new dream in my students, and helping them to understand and appreciate the world of science.</p> <p>This is where Western Governors came into my life. In order for me to keep my new job and gain a full teaching license, I needed to complete a master's degree in education. I searched long and hard for a school and a program that would meet my needs, as well as understand the fact that I had a job and a growing family. The nearby universities offered distance programs in education, but they still required long hours of on-campus class time, a significant commute, and took time away from my family and my job. It was a lucky internet search that finally led me to the WGU website. I was instantly intrigued by the offered programs, and the fact that I would never have to attend class on campus, I could work at my own pace, in my own home, and when I had the time. While this was not always as easy as it had first sounded, it was truly the answer to my prayers.</p> <p>The degree that I have earned has helped me not only get my full teaching license, but has also helped me get back to my original dream. Through my time as an educator, I have developed working relationships with both NASA and NOAA in the fields of curriculum development. My degree has let me become a bigger part of those projects and get back to the science that first inspired me.</p> <p>Currently, I am working with NASA's STEM program developing study guides to help inspire and educate middle and high school students in solar and space physics and planetary magnetic fields. I may not be the one that is gathering the data, but I am helping those scientists organize and explain it in a way that younger, budding scientists can understand.</p> <p>Just the other day, an old family friend and I were talking, and he mentioned that he had heard something interesting on the radio. NASA is accepting applications for the astronaut candidate program, and now corrective eye surgeries, like LASIKs, are okay, and the new shuttle have adjustable seats. [Laughter] He wanted to know if I'd submitted my application yet.</p> <p>So as we celebrate this day, I want all of us to remember that dreams are important. They serve as our drive, motivation, and inspirations, but they must also be dynamic. We need to let them change, refocus, and be reborn. Thank you.</p> <p>[Applause]</p>
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