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Susan Callery
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Susan Callery
Earth Science Public Engagement Manager, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
"I also work very hard to raise money for the Orang Utan Republik Foundation, a foundation which strives to help orangutans and the public's awareness of them and their habitat. "

Where are you from?
I am from San Jose, Calif., although I have lived in Southern California for all of my adult life.

Describe the first time you made a personal connection with outer space.
My mother was fascinated with the night sky and knew every constellation in the Northern Hemisphere. I also have done some amateur astronomy and I used to own a very nice computerized telescope before moving to Los Angeles.

"Learn to write and communicate well.
Don't forget to lead a balanced, active,
fun life -- it will help the scientific part.
Susan Callery

How did you end up working in the space program?
I ended up in the space program quite by accident. I came to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) by way of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), which is a department within the California Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.) My role at DTSC was to communicate the scientific information to the public related with the cleanup of toxic sites. With so many changes happening in the California budget, I was looking to find a similar position and found the perfect fit at JPL. The position was perfect because of JPL's diversity: I can work in the field of Earth science and enjoy and learn about space science at the same time.

What is a Manager of Earth Science Public Engagement?
My goal is to make complex science understandable to the public. I manage a team of communications professionals who work as outreach and public engagement leads for JPL's Earth science missions. I also lead collaborative efforts, which include creatively and effectively incorporating education, outreach and media activities, in consultation with project managers, program scientists and key staff in order to develop and implement an integrated communications plan for the Earth theme.

Tell us about a favorite moment so far in your career.
I already have so many! I loved working at the Science Bowl, the Ocean Science Bowl, and at the FIRST Robotics competition. It was very inspiring to see so many young people who are interested in and excited about science. I also loved the JPL Open House, which brings together all of JPL's Earth science to show the public how we take the vital signs of our planet from space.

Who inspired you?
My mother was my greatest inspiration. She had a huge heart and was very generous and caring. I hope she would be proud of me today.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take the same career path as you?
Start much earlier than I did! It took me many years to find my passion. I started in scientific research, went into interior design, went into politics, became a paralegal (which I was terrible at), and then went into environmental science communication and public outreach.

I also went back to school to get a master's degree in environmental policy at the age of 54. This came about from taking a trip to the jungles of Borneo. There I saw the rainforests being destroyed for palm oil plantations. Every day, mother and father orangutans are killed and babies are chained up or sold into the illegal pet trade in the name of palm oil. I returned home to Los Angeles and enrolled in graduate school.

What do you do for fun?
I travel to faraway places, like Borneo, Sumatra, the Amazon, Bali, and Antarctica. I also took up scuba diving in 2009 and I have been diving in Belize and Indonesia.

I am active in various environmental and political causes, such as rescuing shelter dogs. I also work very hard to raise money for the Orang Utan Republik Foundation, a foundation which strives to help orangutans and the public's awareness of them and their habitat. And I am on the board of my homeowner's association.

If you were talking to a student interested in science and math or engineering, what advice would you give them?
Learn to write and communicate well. Don't forget to lead a balanced, active, fun life -- it will help the scientific part. If you're going into a research career, you have to have passion. My advice for high school students is to get experience, particularly if you live in a community near a university.

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Last Updated: 3 January 2013


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Last Updated: 3 Jan 2013