Inspired by our Founder & CEO’s energetic vision for STEM education programing, Tara Sweeney has been a longtime supporter of the Higher Orbits organization and its mission. In 2018, Higher Orbits held Go For Launch! Leominster and was over the moon to feature Tara as a Hometown Hero of the Fitchburg area. Tara serves on Higher Orbits’ Board of Directors and is the chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Coalition. She is a retired United States Air Force Special Operations Command Officer and has engaged in both military and civilian aviation activities. Tara is currently pursuing her Ph.D in Geology at the University of Texas at El Paso.
I had the opportunity to chat with Tara and learn what inspires her to be a part of the Higher Orbits Board of Directors.
Katy Thompson: What Inspires you to serve as a Board of Directors Member for Higher Orbits?
Tara Sweeney: I was so enamored with the mission of Higher Orbits before I came to the organization itself. I met Michelle at a Space Camp alumni festival. I just met her through the course of friends, and we connected. We had this really cool alumni moment…
I am my school district’s STEM Ambassador. So, when I go home, I go around to all the school districts and talk about STEM. I wear a flight suit and try to motivate our students. Michelle said, ‘Would you like to join me at our GFL! event in your community?’ I said ‘Absolutely, count me in. Let me know what I can do to help.’
If you can believe it, just prior to my arrival to the event, it had been announced that I was going to be inducted into the Space Camp Hall of Fame, which Michelle is a part of. So, Michelle got to introduce me to my community as a future member of the Space Camp Hall of Fame. It was really just a surreal experience. Even today the community talks about the Go For Launch! in the Fitchburg/Leominster area.
KT: What an incredible experience. What was it like being a part of that GFL! event?
TS: Michelle and the team that joins her bring such energy to the students. She’s full of light, love, and smiles. That just naturally helps kids melt down some of those boundaries that are often put up within the STEM fields and allow them to start coalescing as a team. The teamwork opportunities that our activities inspire for the few days that GFL! is in their community, really is awe inspiring.
KT: Based on your experiences with our students, being a STEM Ambassador, and your current work as Ph.D student, how do you feel that has helped you lead in your role as a Board of Directors member?
TS: There is nothing more infectious, then being around students who are just excited about their future. I certainly see that in Go For Launch! I have seen that in my role as the Vice President of Space Camp. I have seen that as a STEM ambassador. I certainly see that today, as I teach at the University of Texas at El Paso.
I think it transfers this responsibility to the adult to continue creating awesome moments and opportunities for students. That is one of the reasons why I was honored to join the Higher Orbits Board because it is a direct opportunity to go to people I know and say, ‘This program is so exceptional. It is worthy of your time, energy, donations, financial support, and advocacy, so that we can continue to create exciting programs for these students.’ I think that continues to motivate me, how we can be responsible as Board of Directors members.
KT: Thank you so much for sharing that. I think that is such a unique and valued perspective on our program.
This next question is one of my favorites… if shipping and packaging was not an issue, what three items would you bring with you if you were traveling to Mars tomorrow?
- Rock Hammer – Tara’s go to geological tool
It makes me feel like a geologist. I would love to have this thing, on Earth, the Moon, and on Mars someday!
- A collection that includes her wings, pins of honor, and important mementos
These things are symbolic of all the people in my life who have helped me get to Mars. These mementos fit in my pocket, so I fly with them when I’m piloting… I take those with me wherever I go.
- Her grandfathers air crew wings from WWII
He was always one of my biggest supporters!
Tara’s passion for student success and STEM education are incredibly moving and inspiring. We are so grateful to have Tara a part of our team to advocate for Higher Orbits and our out of this world students!