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Ocean Surface Topography from Space
Introducing Laura Faye Tenenbaum, JPL Summer Faculty Intern
August 01, 2007

Laura Faye Tenenbaum
Laura Faye Tenenbaum

This summer the ocean science and ocean outreach groups at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory were fortunate to welcome Laura Faye Tenenbaum for a 10-week faculty internship. During the school year Laura teaches Oceanography as an adjunct professor at Glendale Community College (GCC) in Glendale, California. She was awarded a grant to develop curriculum for a new general education college course on climate change for the Physical Sciences department at GCC.

Evidence of global climate change is at the forefront of public attention every day. Young people care about climate change for it is part of their immediate reality as well as their future and they know it. Because this topic is already so crucial to students, they come to class pre-primed with basic knowledge and real concerns about the future of their environment. Laura is passionate about the urgency of educating students and the public at large about the complex facets of climate science. The more knowledge college students have about the science of climate change, the better prepared they will be to face their own challenges as well as challenges for the future of their planet.

Laura with students on an ocean sampling field trip
Laura with students on an ocean sampling field trip.

Students know that our civilization is at a turning point and they want to be involved; yet for many students, science turns them off. They see science as cold, hard, intimidating. Laura hopes that the relevancy of the global climate change topic and its broad level of interest in our society will attract students to this course who may not otherwise be interested in the sciences. The fact that they already care provides a link, an invitation, and a bridge to draw forth a few future scientists. Perhaps a student who doesn't know she would enjoy science will stumble into this class and get inspired. "As a professor I represent the face of science to my students, and the more inviting and approachable I make my presentation, the more relevant the topic, the more they might be able to consider a science career," Laura believes.

Some students find science intimidating because they lack confidence in this area. Others may have difficulty linking the knowledge they gain in the classroom to a career path. "My job is to show them that much of today's science is interdisciplinary and to expose them to the variety of possibilities and choices," she adds. Climate science intertwines various fields and various skill sets. By writing, speaking and lecturing, this internship shows by example, the most effective form of teaching, how students from a variety of backgrounds can fit their individual skill sets into a future scientific career tied to a topic they already feel strongly about, climate change. Then they can incorporate their concern about climate change and feel confident about their chances of a career in science.

During her internship Laura also had the opportunity to work on several other relevant projects. She wrote an article on JPL's ocean surface topography missions: TOPEX/Poseidon, Jason-1 and OSTM/Jason-2, including the NASA/CNES/Eumetsat/NOAA mission, Jason-3, for the September/October issue of NASA's Earth Observer Newsletter. She also completed text and graphics drafts for a climate-focused lithograph that will be part of the outreach materials prepared for the launch of OSTM/Jason-2, scheduled for June 2008.

Before her summer stint at JPL ends this month, Laura will host a group of her GCC students on a tour of the lab, and is also busy preparing a presentation on the importance of climate education and outreach activities. She hopes to have more opportunities to present her work to the Glendale Community College Board of Trustees, and at professional conferences in the near future.

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