Winburn teacher chosen as 2021 Airborne Astronomy Ambassador


LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Jenny McCall, who teaches eighth-grade integrated science at Winburn Middle School, is among 30 teachers from 10 states that the SETI Institute has selected as 2021 NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors.

This professional development program aims to improve science teaching and increase student learning and STEM engagement.

McCall will receive training in astrophysics and planetary science, and will spend a week at a NASA research facility.

In 2021-22, she will teach a physical science module created by the SETI Institute that connects Winburn’s curriculum concepts to NASA- and SOFIA-enabled research.

“The Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program is going to take both myself and my students on the trip of a lifetime,” McCall said.

Virtual trainings start this month as her cohort learns about the SOFIA observatory and the electromagnetic spectrum curriculum and hands-on supplies the teachers will bring home. SOFIA is short for Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy – a Boeing 747SP aircraft modified to carry a reflecting telescope.

In November, McCall will spend an immersion week in Palmdale, California, culminating in a flight on the SOFIA observatory alongside research scientists.

“Science is best taught through ‘doing’ actual science,” McCall said. “Immersion experiences like the NASA program allow students to participate in the analysis of data that is relevant to the world they live in. It allows them to see themselves as an aerospace or mechanical engineer, veterinarian, heart surgeon, computer programmer, analytical chemist, and so on. My memories of what I learned in the science classroom are all related to things that were created as part of the engineering design process.”

This is McCall’s first year at Winburn.

She previously taught seventh grade science and worked as a K-8 STEM support teacher in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

McCall earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and chemistry education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and her master’s in Diverse Learning from Trinity International University in Illinois.

This year’s expanded NASA program includes not only high school teachers but also middle school and community college teachers.

Previous participants from Fayette County Public Schools include Heidi Anderson of Bryan Station High School, Ashley Rosen of the STEAM Academy, and Denise Minor of Henry Clay High School.