Stephanie Clark

Stephanie Clark

Public Outreach Specialist

Stephanie Clark knew she wanted to work with people. When she graduated from the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, or the science of how the body moves, she was considering a career in pediatric physical therapy. “I have always wanted to work with people and help change their lives for the better.”

But when marriage and home ownership intervened, she ended up getting a job at a local printing company instead. When she found out about an administrative professional job at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, she applied and was hired.

Working on the James Webb Space Telescope project, the Hubble Space Telescope’s successor, she was responsible for ensuring that the project office ran smoothly: making travel arrangements for project managers, maintaining conference room schedules, submitting badge requests and ordering supplies.

“I was good at what I was doing, but didn’t like it,” she said. She recalled thinking: “I feel like I need to do more — I have more to give than what I do at this job.”

Stephanie began volunteering outside of work hours at Goddard astronomy events. She’d made friends who worked in outreach and their jobs looked interesting, and she wanted to get some experience. “I thought this is cool; you get to go to events, travel, talk to people about what we’re doing.” But part of it was wanting to interact and have conversations with people, and having the time available to help out.

When outreach jobs opened up, she began applying. She was turned down for the first job she tried for, then hired as the Hubble and Astrophysics Projects Division outreach lead in 2016 ― winning the same job she’d originally applied for when it re-opened. Today she plans and coordinates conferences and outreach events, creates and helps produce outreach products ranging from handouts to short videos, comes up with ideas for social media, and attends events that reach groups ranging from elementary school students to scientists and engineers.

“I love the school visits,” she said. “Kids are smart and people don’t give them a lot of credit. They ask astronomy questions — some pretty in-depth questions. And it’s important to educate the parents, too, because they’re the ones who teach the kids.”

Often the outreach team will bring Hubble pictures or astronaut tools to school events, connecting stories of space with tangible items. “Making science cool is the fun part,” she said. “They know about astronauts, but they don’t realize that they use these tools similar to ones they have at home to fix things in space. They’ll point at something and say ‘What’s this,’ and we’ll explain what it does, and you see their faces light up when they learn something new. It’s great to see kids get into science, want to be astronauts, want to explore.”

Listening to the types of questions people ask help identify the needs that the outreach team should address, she said. It’s a matter of figuring out how to serve the audience in a better and more efficient way. For instance, people asking about Hubble’s social media information inspired the team to come up with a scannable card that would provide those details.

Though Stephanie’s original interest was in medical science and biology rather than space, her curiosity about how things work has been a benefit in the job. “I genuinely love science and have the willingness to learn and to listen,” she said. “Coming in not knowing anything about astronomy, I would listen to the people here and what they had to say and how they explained concepts about how things work and what was in the pictures I was seeing. I’ve always been a really good learner and listener.”

As you work toward your career and encounter twists and turns, it’s important to take setbacks in stride, Stephanie said, recalling her disappointment in being turned down for the first outreach job she applied for. “I thought, ‘Wait — maybe I’m not supposed to do this.’ Even when you’re told no, keep pursuing your goal. It might not work out the way you think it’s going to work out, you might take a different road to get there, but keep trying.”