UVU Alum, science teacher soars into the stratosphere | News @ UVU | News @ UVU
Who said Wolverines can’t fly?
Jennifer Muir (’07), a UVU alumnus and teacher at Draper Park Middle School, has proven she can. She was part of a prestigious group of science teachers selected to travel to the far reaches of space. Muir and 24 other teachers from around the country left Earth as part of a NASA-affiliated teacher training program. She traveled on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) as NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador (AAA). The expedition included several trips aboard a modified Boeing 747.
During the three 3-hour flights into Earth’s stratosphere, Muir and other science educators used the craft’s two-and-a-half-meter telescope to capture images of Earth’s moon. The crew mapped the lunar surface, looking for water. Teachers shared the spacecraft with pilots, flight engineers and aerospace engineers.
“It was just amazing,” Muir said. Seeing the telescope operators and pilots working together on board the flight was fantastic.
Still, Muir’s dreams of hitting the edge of space didn’t always seem likely.
“I was an at-risk kid in high school,” Muir said. “I was kind of a troublemaker, so I didn’t graduate from high school when I was supposed to. But I pulled myself together after realizing, ‘Oh my God, what am I doing with myself?’ I started going to school when I was 19, although it took me a while to graduate because I was on my own to pay for my education.
Muir worked for the Provo School District while attending UVU. She said she was always interested in teaching, but didn’t know what course of study to pursue. Still undecided about her major, Muir’s life changed when she took an earth science class from UVU Professor Michael Bunds.
“[Professor Bunds] was so enthusiastic and it made the subject very interesting,” Muir said. “I was terrified of taking a physics or chemistry course to fulfill my physical science requirements. I didn’t want to get into math and all that, but I ended up loving it so much that I ended up taking a lot of chemistry and math classes.
“It was a good thing for me,” Muir added. “It took me out of my comfort zone, and after 16 years of teaching, I can’t imagine teaching history or English. I wasn’t supposed to do this. I’m supposed to be a science teacher.
Muir also drew inspiration from Dean Danny Horns, a professor at UVU, then called Utah Valley State College.
“Danny Horns came to my class towards the end of the semester and gave a little spiel about the Earth Science curriculum,” Muir recalls. “It was relatively new at the time, and it’s a great program. I loved my experience in the Earth Science major and had a great time getting to know all of my professors. I still keep in touch with Danny today.
Now a middle school science teacher, Muir uses her experience aboard SOFIA to inspire and engage her students in STEM.
“In a few weeks, I’ll start teaching what I’ve learned to my students,” Muir said. “The scientists, pilots and engineers aboard SOFIA are used to talking to educators and helping us teachers get the most out of the experience. I was able to sit behind the pilot for the landing and taking off, which was amazing.
After her stratospheric journey, Muir returned from Palmdale, California to Draper, Utah to tell her enthusiastic students about her adventures.
“I wore my NASA jacket to school because they begged me to bring it,” Muir said. “Now, of course, they want me to take a whole day off just to show them pictures and talk about [the SOFIA].
Muir said she hopes her experiences and program will inspire her students to aim for the stars.
“The whole point of this is to expose as many kids as possible to the NASA and STEM program,” Muir said. “And the best way to do that is to give teachers the experience. By gaining this experience, this information will be passed on to hundreds of children over the years.
Find out more about UVU Earth Sciences Program.
Learn more about NASA’s Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (AAA) program.