You might say that Mary Maxson, seventh grade science teacher, has a bit of inside information whenever a potential hurricane is on the horizon or as NASA launches a new space program.
“Earlier in my career, I worked for NASA both in Langley, Va., and in Washington, D.C., and my husband, Bob, for many years, was the head of the Hurricane Hunters for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the Department of Commerce,” she explained.
As a NASA engineer, Mary provided wind tunnel analysis to help NASA better understand aerodynamics in order to improve the wing design on aircraft. In her last NASA position, she was assigned to the space shuttle program and helped develop satellite integration with the shuttle. Additionally, she and her colleagues trained astronauts in conducting in-orbit satellite repairs.
And while she left her work with NASA to stay home to raise her two daughters, Mary said she remained very interested in the space shuttle program. “For a while, we lived in Florida directly in the shuttle’s flight pattern. We would get the children up to go watch the launches.”
Mary recalled the day the space shuttle Columbia crashed over Texas. “We were waiting for it to land in Florida, and I kept expecting to hear the sonic boom. When I didn’t hear it, I told my husband that something was wrong, and it was.”
Mary’s husband’s career as a captain with NOAA entailed flying into storms to gather data regarding the strength and direction of potential hurricanes for the National Hurricane Center. A photo, taken by Mary’s husband, in the eye of a hurricane hangs in her classroom. “While we were in Florida, our neighbors watched me to see when I began preparing for a hurricane. I finally told them that I would raise the University of Miami’s Hurricanes flag if they needed to begin preparations.”
After staying home for eight years, Mary realized that teaching was a perfect match for her. “During that time, I volunteered at my daughters’ school and found that I really enjoyed being with students and that it was a great way to use my science skills and to continue to grow and to be challenged.”
Before moving to Kansas City and joining Pembroke Hill, Mary taught middle school science and math at St. John’s Episcopal Day School in Tampa for six years, and at Woodrow Wilson Academy in Westminster, Colo., for two years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in ocean engineering from Florida Institute Of Technology.
“I think the transition to teaching middle school was a lot easier for me because my children were middle school-age at the time,” Mary explained. “They were a great resource for me, and I had a wonderful perspective of where my students were in their development and abilities.”
Even now, with her daughters in their mid-to-late 20s, Mary said she still enjoys middle schoolers. “I see so many facets in one person. These students are still nurturing, but yet independent. I enjoy empowering them to become independent thinkers. And I have never received so many hugs!”
Mary said she loves the challenge of presenting science information in a format that middle school students will understand. “We all hope for that ‘ah ha’ moment,” she said, “but what I also really want is to see the growth in my students from the beginning of the school year to the spring. I want them to make connections in March with what we were studying in September and then apply those connections to their surroundings.”
She continued, “So much about science is observing and absorbing what is happening. Observation is a powerful tool. Just sitting and taking it all in has great value both in becoming better science students and better people.”
Following her own advice concerning the importance of observation, Mary participated in a science expedition in the French Alps this summer through an Alumni Summer Grant.
Spending a week with scientists, Mary assisted on a research project with marmots. “It was very exciting,” she explained. “We studied the effects of climate change on their habitats and their socialization.”
She added, “I had a wonderful, if not exhausting, time. We worked along side the scientists recording observations and writing reports. I saw avalanches while weathering snowstorms and 80-degree days. I even observed surgeries as the scientists implanted thermometers in the marmots.”
Mary sees a direct connection between her summer research and her work with students. “During this expedition, I was doing what I teach my students to do. I was making observations, changing variables and recording results, experiencing the in-depth research trials that scientists must conduct to obtain solid data for their conclusions, and finally we were writing scientific papers. It will be exciting to share this experience with my current and future students.”