Eight Gallaudet University students and six staff and faculty members visited the Mary W. Jackson National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Headquarters on April 12. While there, they met the NASA administrator, toured the new Earth Information Center (EIC), and interacted with two deaf NASA employees.  

This visit was organized by the Office for Career Success with support from the School of Science, Technology, Accessibility, Mathematics, and Public Health and the Office of University Communications.  

The Earth Information Center opened in June 2023 in the east lobby of the NASA headquarters building. Its founding partners include NASA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the United States Geological Survey (USGS).  

The EIC contains three main areas: a Hyperwall, which displays images, visualizations, and data that show how viewing Earth from space can improve lives in the face of disasters, environmental challenges, and climate change; a Space to Earth immersive experience, and The Earth Pulse, a ceiling-to-floor chandelier-like sculpture that visualizes live communication with NASA’s Earth satellites, using light activity that represents data transmission in real time. 

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson greeted the group, spoke with them for about 15 minutes, and posed for photographs. Nelson, a former astronaut and United States Senator, “is tasked with carrying out President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ vision for NASA to demonstrate American leadership in air, space, and on Earth for the benefit of all humanity.” 

Following the EIC tour, the group met in the James E. Webb Auditorium for a film showing and panel discussion. NASA staff showed two videos, “We Are Going” about the future of space exploration, and the other, “Sign Language From the Station,” featuring Tracy Caldwell Dyson, a chemist and NASA astronaut who learned sign language while in high school. Dyson signed her entire presentation from the International Space Station. 

Dr. SaraBeth Sullivan, PhD ’22 and Apurva Varia

The two deaf NASA employees were Dr. SaraBeth Sullivan, PhD ’22, an Education Program Specialist based at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, and Apurva Varia, a Deaf aerospace engineer and Mission Director at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

NOTE: Gallaudet University joins NASA and the South Asian Deaf community in mourning the passing of Apurva Varia on April 24. He passed away while visiting his children in North Carolina. Says Dr. Raja Kushalnagar, “Apurva was an incredibly kind, humble, and warm-hearted person, and a valued champion for NASA-Gallaudet collaboration on astronautical accessibility research.”

Sullivan and Varia emphasized the capabilities of deaf individuals in the workforce and stated that NASA is an inclusive and rewarding workplace. They also highlighted NASA’s internship programs, which provide training, mentoring, and career development opportunities while working with the world’s best science, engineering, financial, information technology, and business minds. After their presentation, Sullivan and Varia responded to questions and distributed materials about NASA’s internship offerings. 

The visit concluded with remarks by Shahra Lambert, Senior Advisor for Engagement and Equity in the Office of the Administrator. 

Aimee Mousavi, Manager, and Beth Dorsette, Career Educator in the Office for Career Success, arranged this visit, along with NASA’s Michelle Barth and Helen Wilson, Special Assistants for Engagement in the Office of the Administrator, and Nicole Ramberg-Pihl, Senior Project Manager in the Earth Information Center. Dr. Daniel Lundberg, ’02, Professor of Chemistry and Director of the School of Science, Technology, Accessibility, Mathematics, and Public Health, assisted in identifying students with an interest in space and planetary science. 

Overall, this visit provided participants with valuable insights into STEM careers at NASA and fostered connections between Gallaudet staff, faculty, students, and professionals in the field. 

The NASA Earth Information Center is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. It is located at 300 Hidden Figures Way SW, a short walk from the Federal Center SW and L’Enfant Plaza Metro stations. 

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