Ames teacher to watch space launch Thursday but most excited for her daughter. 'It’s not about me.'
An Ames teacher said watching a space rocket take off this week will be a launching point for her work going forward and her daughter's future.
Ames Middle School teacher Katrina Williams said, "It’s had a life of its own, but I’m still the same woman, with more of a vision now," referring to the national recognition that led her to be invited to watch Thursday's space launch in west Texas.
Williams was recognized in April in Washington, D.C. as one of five winners nationwide of the 2022 "Trailblazing STEM Educator Award."
The award, sponsored by the Challenger Center and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), recognized K-12 educators "who go above and beyond to inspire the next generation of explorers and innovators in science, technology, engineering and mathematics," according to AIAA.
Williams was not named in Washington as a grand prize winner to join at a launch of New Shepard — the reusable rocket transport system used by Blue Origin, the private aerospace and spaceflight company created by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — but the winner told Williams she'd be at the launch anyway.
Williams put the thought out of her mind until Blue Origin contacted her a couple of weeks before the scheduled New Shepard launch in Van Horn, Texas, to invite her and one guest to come watch.
She picked her daughter, Victoria — an 8th-grader at Ames Middle School — to join.
Williams — a math teacher who seeks to especially involve and support students who have historically been underrepresented in science and technology — is interested in space exploration, but said, "It’s not about me. It’s about my daughter."
They've been in the company of astronauts before, including at the June premiere in Washington of NASA's documentary "The Color of Space" on the experiences of Black American astronauts, to which Williams and her family were invited.
She said a friend has told her, "They couldn’t get you, but they’re going to make sure they get your daughter to space."
There's still a lot of details about this week's New Shepard launch that are being kept secret until their arrival — including what exactly they might see and who else might be there — and there will be areas where cellphones and cameras won't be allowed, if there's even internet access.
All Williams knows is that they will leave their hotel early in the morning for the launch and won't be back until the evening, and they've been told to dress for cold and hot weather.
Meanwhile, she's remaining humble after her national award but the experience has helped stoke fire for her to work on her own professional trajectory.
She'll be pursuing a doctorate of education this fall, even as she continues teaching. “I’m using my growth, not sitting on my laurels."
Phillip Sitter covers education for the Ames Tribune, including Iowa State University and PreK-12 schools in Ames and elsewhere in Story County. Phillip can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is on Twitter @pslifeisabeauty.