“Dare mighty things” is the mantra for life and teaching for Southeast Missouri State University alumna Kaci Heins who recently joined Space Center Houston, a nonprofit science and space learning center, as a new education supervisor.
Her enthusiasm for science and space exploration has led her to inspire children across the country and earned her many awards, grants and recognitions.
“For me, this is a dream job come true because I have a very strong passion for education and a strong passion for space,” said Heins. “It’s so much fun getting to nerd out every day.”
The educationally focused center welcomes 1 million visitors annually and draws more than 100,000 teachers and students annually from around the world to take part in extraordinary learning opportunities. The center uses the wonders of space exploration to inspire all generations and encourage people of all ages to pursue STEM careers. The Smithsonian Affiliate museum is also the Official Visitor Center for NASA Johnson Space Center.
Heins manages three of the center’s educational programs focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics including Space Center U™, a five-day immersive learning experience; Space After Dark, an overnight program with specialized STEM activities for students kindergarden-12th grades; and Boy Scout and Girl Scout Camp-In activities.
“I am excited to bring creative ideas to our educational programs and adapt content for all ages while meeting state and national standards,” she said. “There’s so much potential here and having that teacher mindset when planning different programs is important.”
Heins, a Harrisburg, Illinois, native, earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with an emphasis in science and a Master of Arts in secondary education with an emphasis in technology from Southeast in 2007. In 2010, she attended Honeywell’s Space Academy for Educators, a space camp for teachers. Among her accomplishments, Heins was awarded the 2014 Air Force Association National Aerospace Teacher of the Year and the 2015 Southeast Missouri State University’s Young Alumni Merit Award. In her career, Heins taught science at several schools in Flagstaff, Arizona, including Pathways to Education Acceleration for Kids (PEAK) School, Mount Elden Middle School and Northland Preparatory Academy.
With new developments occurring almost daily, not only from NASA but also from public and private space programs throughout the world, Heins says she looks forward to the new educational opportunities at Space Center Houston.
“The next 10 years in space are going to be so exciting,” Heins said, noting the focus on Mars and space travel. “It’s so cool to be a part of it as it’s starting to really build up. Space Center Houston has an important opportunity to bring science to life and encourage students to use leadership, creative-thinking and problem-solving skills while solving the complex challenges of space exploration.”
As an educator, there have been times that being the only “super space nerd” was hard, she said, but added she feels she’s truly found a home at the center where everybody has the same goals with space education.
One of the most rewarding aspects of working at the center is her ability to reach more children with the wonders of space exploration. The center is in the midst of extensive growth and has had continued recording breaking attendance, she said.
“It’s so exciting that we’re not only reaching children but the whole community,” said Heins. “You walk through Space Center Houston and you hear all these different languages being spoken.We’re reaching people of all ages from all over the world.”
Having traveled all over the world as an educator, she looks forward to having an impact at Space Center Houston with kids from all around the world, she said.
“I’m just excited to be able to reach more children and share with them hands-on space-related activities, and for them to dare mighty things as well because who knows, maybe one of them will be the first to walk on Mars or beyond.”