Southeast Alumna Kaci Heins Named 2020 Winner of Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award


Kaci Heins prepared to launch a high-altitude weather balloon at the SEclipse 2017 festivities at Houck Field.

Southeast Missouri State University alumna Kaci Heins, director of Space Center University® in Houston, will be honored with the Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award at a special presentation in March.

Heins will receive the award March 30 at the Space Foundation Teacher Liaison Professional Development Workshop at the Space Foundation Discovery Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“I am honored and excited to be receiving the Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award,” Heins said. “The education experiences that Southeast provided for me through my academic career truly laid a foundation of excellence.”

She was selected for the award for her work as the director of Space Center University® at Space Center Houston (Texas) where she develops innovative mission-based content and is responsible for immersive education programs such as Space Center University®, Stars & STEM, and other programs and special events. She has been integral in the development of authentic learning experiences for the next generation of explorers. She also has established an internship program for Space Center Houston’s education department.

She is a 2004 magna cum laude graduate of Southeast where she earned a Bachelor of Science in elementary education with an emphasis in science and is a 2007 summa cum laude graduate with a Master of Arts with a major in secondary education with an emphasis in technology. A Harrisburg, Illinois, native, Heins received a full scholarship to run cross country and track at Southeast. In 2015, she was presented with Southeast’s Young Alumni Merit Award.

In summer 2017, Heins led area southeast Missouri teachers in designing mini experiments with their students that were loaded onto to two high-altitude weather balloons. The balloons were launched from Houck Field to the edge of space in conjunction with the Great American Solar Eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017. The educators then tracked and recovered their payloads with the experiments and guided their students in analyzing data collected and video recorded during the flight.

Prior to her time at Space Center Houston, Heins enjoyed a remarkable teaching career in which she was recognized as the 2015 Arizona Science Teachers Association Middle School Teacher of the Year, 2014 Flagstaff STEM City Teacher of the Year and the 2014 Air Force Association National Aerospace Teacher of the Year. She is also the 2017 recipient of the Space Center Houston Education Leadership Award and the 2016 PBS Digital Learning Media Innovator Award. She has been a keynote speaker at the 2019 Society of Women Engineers Houston Chapter’s “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” and the 2019 Arizona Science Teachers Association Conference.

She is a Space Foundation Teacher Liaison and is affiliated with the National Rocketry Association, the NASA JPL Solar System Ambassadors program and the Association of Science and Technology Centers, and is an alumna of NOAA’s Teachers at Sea program.

She and her husband, Eric, who also attended Southeast, have a son, Chase.