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Former Astronaut Helps Launch DCCCD’s First STEM Summit - April 7-9

photo of Dr. Mary Ellen Weber

For immediate release — March 28, 2011

(DALLAS) — Dr. Mary Ellen Weber flew into space to follow her dreams. The former NASA astronaut has operated the space shuttle’s robotic arm; served as medical officer and flight deck crew member for launch, landing and a space station rendezvous; and implemented new crew procedures for engine failures during ascent for arm operations — to name only a few of her space flight duties.

Weber’s experiences will feed the dreams of Dallas County Community College District students who are exploring careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — STEM fields that are a driving force in the global economy and future innovations for the United States.

Weber is the keynote speaker on Friday, April 8, at 1 p.m. during DCCCD’s first STEM Summit, which features a number of presenters who will share inspiration and excitement about STEM careers with students. The three-day event, which is free and open to the general public as well, will be held April 7-9 at the Trinity River Audubon Center in southern Dallas.

From outer space to inner space, the event also includes a presentation by renowned computer game designer Vijay Thakkar, who shares creative credit with brothers Paul and David Bettner of NewToy for “Words with Friends.” Thakkar now is a Dallas-based studio technical director for Zynga, an international social network game developer — creator of the popular games “Farmville,” “Mafia Wars” and “Scramble.”

The conference is a series of informative workshops and panel discussions with industry and university leaders; participants also can tour the center’s nature trails. The target audience for this event is a group of select DCCCD students who are recipients of the DCCCD STEM Fellows and Scholars awards, a program which is directed by the DCCCD Foundation and development office (sponsor for this summit). The DCCCD STEM scholars program receives its funding from federal appropriations and private donations.

“We know that it is a national priority to produce more high-performing students in mathematics and science so that the U.S. can remain a leader in technology and innovation,” said Betheny Reid, the district’s associate vice chancellor of development and the DCCCD Foundation’s president. “Our STEM Fellows and Scholars program is just one component of our college district’s initiative to train and produce the best STEM professionals and teachers in the community. The summit provides an opportunity for our STEM scholars to explore career options and to be inspired by those opportunities.”

Weber, recipient of the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, joined an elite group of women when she was chosen in 1992 by NASA for its astronaut program. One of the youngest candidates selected for the program (at age 29), she flew on two space shuttle missions: Flights STS-70 on Discovery in 1995 and STS-101 on Atlantis in 2000. During those flights, she completed 297 earth orbits and traveled a total of 7.8 million miles. The Atlantis mission involved critical early construction for the International Space Station; the scope and complexity of building the station is unmatched in the history of space exploration. Weber’s mission on Discovery included launching a $200 million communications satellite and performing groundbreaking biotechnology experiments in space that explored the growth of human cancer tissues.

Currently, Weber serves as vice president of government affairs and policy for the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. A respected NASA expert on biotechnology, she also is an instrument-rated pilot; an active skydiver; the recipient of 14 medals for her skydiving efforts; and a world-record holder (for the largest freefall formation with 300 skydivers). She earned her doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley; her master’s degree in business administration from Southern Methodist University; and her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering (with honors) from Purdue University.

More than 100 DCCCD STEM scholars will attend Weber’s keynote address and participate in more than a dozen sessions (both presentations and panel discussions) related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

In addition to keynoter Weber and presenter Thakkar, other speakers during the DCCCD STEM Summit include: Torrence Robinson of Fluor; Steve Lee from the Quicksilver Group; Marvin Applewhite; Dr. Mark Spong; plus students and faculty from DCCCD, the University of North Texas, the University of Texas at Arlington, the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD Center for Brain Health), Southern Methodist University, Brookhaven College and Richland College.

For the full schedule of speakers and activities, visit: http://www.foundation.dcccd.edu/steminitiative/summit/index.html

For more information, contact Eddie Miranda, director of marketing and communications for the DCCCD Foundation, at (214) 378-1541.

STEM Summit Schedule (PDF - 13KB)

STEM Fellows and Scholars Program — Fact Sheet (PDF - 16KB)

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Press contact: Eddie Miranda
214-378-1541; emiranda@dcccd.edu