Laura Barber Graduate Speaker at February 2008 Commencement
As a child, Laura Barber was convinced she was going to be an astronaut. She studied the stars, planets, moons and rockets. She slept with pictures of the Challenger crew around her bed. Even when she watched the shuttle explode in her grade school class, she wasn't swayed.
Laura took every class that her tiny rural school could provide and even took 6 am satellite-based math classes, knowing she was advancing her chances for success in college. In her sophomore or junior year, she got hold of an astronaut candidate application. It was the first real sorrow that dashed her dream. It stated that people applying to the program must be at least five feet, five inches tall and have nearly perfect eye sight. Laura was prescribed her first pair of glasses when she was five and at five feet, three inches tall, all the genetics for height went to her sisters.
"In true teenage girl fashion, I was crushed. Everything I worked for was taken away," said Laura. "But with a few reminders from teachers and my parents, I decided to focus on the science of the mission and not on the space flight so I could still be involved with space exploration."
She decided to attend Eastern Oregon University to study physics. She intended to continue her education in Fairbanks, Alaska, to study upper atmospheric physics and other topics related to the aurora. But life happened. She married her husband in her junior year and graduated while she was seven months pregnant with their first child. Alaska would have to wait.
"It took a little while to adjust to a life without academics, but I loved the time I had with my son and husband," said Laura. "I knew I made the right choice, but still missed my old dream."
She was given a chance to re-focus when the superintendent of her old high school was in need of a science teacher with school starting in just a few weeks. She was granted an emergency teaching license and was given full responsibility for the middle and high school science classes. Because it was only an emergency credential, she would need to gain a full teaching license in order to keep her job permanently.
"It was a lucky search that led me to WGU, and I was instantly intrigued by the program and the fact that I never would have to attend class on a campus," said Laura. "I was working and had a growing family and needed something I could complete on my time and at my own pace."
Now having earned a Master's of Arts in Science Education, Laura has taken one step toward her dream of exploring space, but in a wonderful alternative way. Now, as a teacher, her most valuable accomplishment has been working with NASA's THEMIS program. It allows her to help interpret NASA activities and accomplishments and explain it in ways young schoolchildren can understand.
What the future holds is a mystery. She is working towards a certificate in metrology; however, just the other day she heard that NASA is accepting applications for the astronaut candidate program, but with welcome requirement changes. This time, corrective eye surgeries are acceptable and the new shuttle has adjustable seats.