Research Associate / Curriculum Specialist
Northern Arizona University
Rachel Arens is part of NASA's Science Activation Program (SciAct). SciAct has projects and NASA teams across the U.S. that are helping learners of all ages do science!
What first sparked your interest in science, technology, engineering, and/or math?
I grew up on a farm in Pierce, Nebraska. As a child, I enjoyed playing in our nearby creeks and finding barred tiger salamanders. As I got older, the tiger salamanders disappeared from my creeks and most of Nebraska. This piece of my childhood that is now gone led me to begin asking questions about "why" and "how" the salamanders disappeared, which led me to gain my bachelor's degree in Biology and Masters in Toxicology.
What Science Activation project(s) are you affiliated with?
Planetary Learning that Advances the Nexus of Engineering, Technology, and Science (PLANETS).
PLANETS is an out-of-school time (OST) program for youth in grades 3–8 that provides STEM learning with an emphasis on integrating NASA planetary science and engineering, particularly for underserved audiences.
Tell us about your job. What do you do?
I connect rural educators with NASA. I co-host the 3D Thursday Webinars for Rural Educators (eight episodes per season). I look for new ways to connect with rural audiences, including a newsletter, and I highlight our rural partnerships at NASA.
What's one piece of advice you would give to someone interested in learning more about science?
Curiosity doesn't kill cats – it births scientists and discovery!
What is your favorite science image or visualization, and why?
My favorite science image is the first picture of the black hole because I simply love the mystery and science behind black holes.
What are some fun facts about yourself?
I love the outdoors and traveling the world. My hobbies include horseback riding, rock climbing, running, kayaking, and coaching high school cross country. My favorite place to visit on the planet is the Amazon Rainforest, and my goal is to someday see Antarctica!
Share a math experience and how it has impacted you.
I loved math, but I ran out of math courses to take in my rural high school. I completed our highest math course (a college-credit Calculus course) and tested out of Calculus 2 (another college-credit course) during my first semester as a junior. I was asked to tutor others in math and compete in math competitions for the duration of my high school career until I was able to take more courses in college. Despite my success in math, I was often told that boys were "naturally good at math" and girls "had to work hard to be good at it." This statement always bothered me and drove me to feel like I had to prove myself in the classroom even though I received A's in all my courses. Now that I work in education, I aim to encourage girls in STEM to feel included, supported, inspired, and seen so they don't experience a similar imposter syndrome that I grew up with.