ACEAP Ambassadors and Leadership Teams

Michelle Ferrara Peterson ( is the program director at AstroCamp, a residential science center located in Idyllwild, California. Michelle began her career in research, which took her to many interesting places, including Australia, Hawaii, Alaska, and Antarctica. Throughout her adventures, she discovered her passion for sharing the natural world with others (especially children) and so began her love with informal science education. Michelle first worked at AstroCamp for five years as an instructor. Her zeal for education brought her to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry as the School Partnership Manager, where she was able to hone her skills of blending informal and formal education. In 2010, she returned to AstroCamp as program director. She feels that nothing can replace a clear night sky to spark the interest of students in astronomy. She has been fortunate to participate in professional development trainings at JPL and with SOFIA. She is a member of the International Planetarium Society and Astronomical Society of the Pacific. She is also lead for the Research and Education Collaborative Occultation Network (RECON) team at AstroCamp, which is one of 55 sites in this citizen science astronomy network. Michelle believes that the best part of science is that there is always more to discover. Her two young boys are full of curiosity and provide many learning opportunities for her. She can’t wait to learn about the amazing astronomy research being conducted in Chile and to share that knowledge with 18,000 students and teachers that visit AstroCamp yearly.

Michale Joshua Roberts ( caused a lot of undue confusion with his name, so he goes by M. Josh Roberts. Josh is part of the planetarium content creation team for the California Academy of Sciences and has developed live content for venues across the museum and beyond. He has been doing amateur astronomy for half his life and got his degree in astronomy from San Francisco State University (Go Gators!). Between the SFSU observatory and Leuschner observatory in the Berkeley hills, Josh has experienced both the operational/maintenance side of running an observatory as well as assisting students and the public with making observations and learning about what they see. Youth education and inspiration is one of his major foci, so the ongoing development of portable planetarium curriculum and youth astronomy programs has been a high priority. Through Project ASTRO, Astronomy From the Ground Up, Superhero Physics, and MySky programs he is trying to learn new ways of sharing his passion for science through astronomy and humor. One of Josh’s life goals is trying to amass an omnibus of the worst jokes in astronomy and you can help! ( Non-astronomical hobbies include home-brewing, games of the tabletop variety and historical societies.

Sian Proctor is a geology professor at South Mountain Community College (SMCC) in Phoenix, Arizona. She has a bachelor’s of science degree in Environmental Science, a master’s of science in Geology, and a Ph.D. in Science Education. Both her master’s and doctoral research involved the use of technology to understand how individuals learn. She teaches both hybrid and online geology and sustainability classes and has traveled and taught around the world. Sian has a passion for space exploration and photography. She helped run a summer internship program at Kennedy Space Center, has been a mentor for the Arizona Space Grant Consortium, and was a finalist for the 2009 NASA Astronaut Program. In 2013, she was the education outreach officer on a four-month NASA-funded mock Mars mission called Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation. During the mock Mars mission, she created education outreach videos and had a photography contract for Discover magazine. This spring Sian is featured in a new PBS series called Genius with Stephen Hawking. She’s in Episode 3: Are We Alone where she learns to search for intelligent life in the universe. Every year, Sian gives numerous presentations on science, technology, engineering, math, and space exploration. She is extremely excited to be a part of ACEAP. Her goal is to bring what she learns back to her college, students, and community with the intent of offering more astronomy related courses. Sian will be teaching planetary science this fall at SMCC.

William Bogardus is a career educator and school administrator currently supervising science student teachers for the State University of New York College at Oneonta. He is active in the Astronomical League currently serving as vice president and is a coordinator for the Radio Astronomy Observing Program. His accomplishments in amateur astronomy include the Master Observer and the Master Outreach awards. In 2013, he was presented with the G. R. Wright Award for Outstanding Service to Astronomy. A physics teacher at heart, at the secondary level he has taught astronomy classes and served as planetarium director at Ogdensburg Free Academy and director at the Wesley L Stitt Observatory there. His observing adventures have taken him all over the world, including trips to Chile and Bolivia. Relating to his experiences in astronomy, he has been a speaker at local clubs, small groups, and the Winter Star Party in the Keys. He has written articles for astronomy publications and maintains social media pages for astronomical organizations to which he belongs.

Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer and director of the Fels Planetarium at The Franklin Institute, has been an integral part of the Institute since 1978, designing and presenting many of the Institute’s exhibits and public programs. Pitts has been the architect of numerous community science outreach programs, has co-authored planetarium shows currently in worldwide distribution, currently serves as the U.S. Science Museum, Planetarium, and Urban Outreach Advisor to the Thirty Meter Telescope project and since 1990 has continually created nationally distributed astronomy and space science content for the Philadelphia PBS affiliate WHYY TV12 and their radio counterpart WHYY 91FM. As ‘the face’ and ‘voice’ of the Institute for many years, he regularly appears on major national and international television networks as a science content expert and was the U.S. spokesperson for the IAU’s International Year of Astronomy in 2010. Pitts currently serves as a NASA Solar System Ambassador and served for three years as the NASA/MIRS Astrobiology Ambassador. Pitts has received numerous honors, including the Philadelphia Mayor’s Liberty Bell (twice), the inaugural Fellow of the Wagner Free Institute of Science award, the inaugural David Rittenhouse Science Achievement Award, was inducted into the Germantown Historical Society Hall of Fame, and was awarded an honorary doctor of science degree from LaSalle University in 2011. Pitts is also the only astronomer invited to participate in both of President Obama’s White House star parties as a telescope operator. In fact, in typical fashion, Pitts actually picked up the Obama’s younger daughter Sasha so she could look through the eyepiece back when she was too small to reach it herself!

John Blackwell ( is the observatory director and educator in science at Phillips Exeter Academy, in Exeter, New Hampshire. John came to Exeter with degrees in aviation management, flight operations, and astronomy. He spent over 15 years as an engineer in the early years of the Internet’s growth, designing, building and testing routers, repeater and technology for high-speed video over the Internet. His first look through a telescope was at age nine and he hasn’t turned back since! At Exeter he teaches all of the astronomy courses, physics, a senior studies course called Science and Religion, and epistemology. All of the astronomy courses follow a research-based science education pedagogy for which John was given the ASP Thomas Brennan Award in 2010. Outside the classroom, John gives visiting lectures and opens up the observatory for weekly public talks and star parties. He is also an active researcher with focus on AGN and cataclysmic variable stars. Students are often involved in that research, and John works with them to publish their findings for presentation at AAS meetings. During summer months, John helps other institutions to build observatories and is involved from the planning and design stages all the way to first light. When there is time to relax, John enjoys a wide range of hobbies and activities including hiking, aviation, astrophotography, gourmet cooking, model building, and playing drums.

Geneviève de Messières ( manages the astronomy education program at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The keystone of the program is the Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory on the National Mall. Her enthusiastic team of staff, student employees, and dozens of volunteers regularly invite the public to become astronomers by using telescopes and engaging with hands-on astronomy activities. They also lead lectures in the Albert Einstein Planetarium, teacher workshops, and school field trips. They tweet, blog, and post images. Geneviève launched Astronomy Chat, a series of informal conversations between researchers and the public. In 2015, she helped organize White House Astronomy Night. She has helped develop several new exhibits at the National Air and Space Museum, most recently “A New Moon Rises.” Geneviève first got interested in astronomy using her dad’s telescope and reading “The Grand Tour: A Traveler’s Guide to the Solar System.” She loved physics, but it didn’t occur to her that astronomy could be her career until her first astronomy professor at Swarthmore College invited her to join his research team. She earned her Ph.D. in astronomy at the University of Virginia, using the Spitzer Space Telescope to study an unusual mode of star formation in the hearts of galaxy clusters. At the University of Virginia, she helped found Dark Skies, Bright Kids, an after-school astronomy club for rural elementary schools. She started at the National Air and Space Museum as a volunteer, and now has her dream job as an astronomy educator there.

David Lockett is an elementary school teacher at Mitchell Neilson Elementary in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. David also serves as a Solar System Ambassador for the State of Tennessee. David has been compelled by the cosmos from an early age. He started the nonprofit camp STEM, which focuses on using innovative methods to bring STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — education to students from underserved communities. The camp was recently featured on Goddard Media Studios, “GPM Scientists answer students’ questions about global precipitation.” He attended the NASA Orion launch, OLYMPEX campaign, which focused on tracking precipitation over mountainous terrain that is difficult to measure, and previewed the New Horizons mission at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. His efforts with STEM and astronomy were recognized recently with a Congressional STEM proclamation from U.S. Representative Scott DesJarlais. David is looking forward to the ACEAP experience and sharing the experiences with students and teachers alike.

Carmen A. Pantoja is the first Puerto Rican woman astronomer. She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), and obtained a Ph.D. at the University of Oklahoma using the Arecibo Observatory for her research. She is a professor of physics at the Department of Physics of the Natural Sciences Faculty (UPR, San Juan). Carmen is interested in the large-scale distribution of galaxies in the Universe and in the emission properties at radio and infrared wavelengths of galaxies. She has been involved in diverse outreach activities: In 2009 she was part of the organizing committee for the celebration of the International Year of Astronomy in Puerto Rico. She has worked in the development of strategies to make astronomy accessible for people who are visually impaired or blind.

2015 Ambassadors

Dr. Brian Koberlein ( is a Senior Lecturer of Physics and Astronomy at the Rochester Institute of Technology and an RIT media expert in astronomy, astrophysics and physics. He has authored several research articles, as well as Astrophysics Through Computation, an undergraduate textbook on computational astrophysics.  In addition to his academic work, Dr. Koberlein is a tireless promoter of scientific understanding. His articles on physics and astronomy have appeared on numerous science websites including EarthSky, Nautilus, Universe Today and From Quarks to Quasars. He makes daily posts on physics and astronomy on his blog Once Universe at a Time (, where he also hosts a weekly podcast on a range of science topics.  Dr. Koberlein is also a founding member of Prove Your World (, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit using online media to promote science literacy and scientific habits of mind in children ages 8 – 13.

Jim O’Leary ( is Maryland Science Center (MSC)’s lead space science and astronomy specialist. He has produced dozens of programs for MSC’s Davis Planetarium, some of which have played in planetariums worldwide. He has received NSF, NASA and NOAA grants for production of space and Earth science programs, and was awarded the NASA Excellence in Outreach Award. A current NASA grant, partnering with Heliophysics researchers at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, is producing educator professional development and creating library exhibits on the topic of the Sun and space weather. Jim has worked with the STScI on a number of education initiatives and with Smithsonian Institution creating a Hubble Space Telescope exhibit. Jim oversaw the renovation of MSC’s Alvan Clark & Sons 8” refractor, now computer controlled with video links to the Planetarium and exhibit floor. He managed four live conversations between Baltimore City students and astronauts aboard the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle, and has organized multiple astronaut appearances at MSC. He has also overseen educational outreach for the IMAX films Flight of the Butterflies 3D, Dinosaurs Alive 3D and Star-Spangled Banner: Anthem of Liberty. Jim hosted a radio program for 12 years on the local NPR affiliate, reporting space science and astronomy news, regularly appears on radio and TV to explain science stories, and is a lead partner in Project ASTRO for the Baltimore-Washington region.

Mike Prokosch ( runs the SHSU Planetarium and Observatory and has worked for the Sam Houston State physics department for over 12 years. In that time he has assisted in the Astronomy of East Texas Summer School program, the The Hetu’u Global Network observation of 2012 Venus Transit, and attended 2009 summer workshop in Chicago’s Adler Planetarium in preparation to make public outreach efforts observing the eclipsing binary star Epsilon Aurigae under Citizen Sky. He joined the AAVSO as a member in 2012, but has been contributing primarily visual observations for 5 years. He founded the Huntsville Amateur Astronomy Society in 2004, a member of the Night Sky Network. He has written a column titled Seeing Stars for the Huntsville Item for the past 5 years. His activities at SHSU include star parties at the observatory for the general public, monthly free planetarium shows with weekly shows during the summer, assisting with the Scouts@Sam program for both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and the Sibling Program of Freshman Orientation. He has hosted star parties and planetarium shows for the local chapter of the Audobon Society, various homeschool groups, and local high schools and junior highs. He enjoys observing variable stars, watching Jupiter, comets, and supernovae with his 235mm Celestron SCT, making contributions to the Globe At Night Project, and occasionally fidgeting with his homemade Itty Bitty Radio Telescope. He also teaches fulltime: 2 years as a middle school science teacher and 12 years in special education.

Peter Detterline ( is an avid astronomer whose interests cover a wide range of the astronomical spectrum. He teaches astronomy to people of all ages as Director of the Boyertown Planetarium, and runs a dual credit astronomy class at the school. He was a mentor for students chosen by NASA to work with the Mars Exploration Rover mission, and the Mercury Messenger mission. He is a professor of astronomy at Montgomery County Community College and has worked with the Tzec Maun Foundation providing state-of-the-art Internet telescopes in New Mexico and Australia for student use. He has coauthored numerous papers on eclipsing binaries and contributes to the International Meteor Organization and the American Amateur Variable Star Observers. His interest in archeoastronomy has led to a patent on a ”Rock Fashionable Calendar Horologe” which is the discovery of a reproducible calendar stone used by early man. A founding member of the Mars Society, he is responsible for the design, construction, implementation and documentation of the Musk Observatory at the Mars Desert Research Station. He continues to work with Mission Support as Observatory Director for international astronomers who wish to use the facility. As an amateur astronomer he has traveled the globe to view solar eclipses, built his own observatory, and has completed many observing programs including the Astronomical League’s “Master Observer”.

Renae Kerrigan (, Planetarium Curator at the Peoria Riverfront Museum, has worked in informal astronomy education since 2009. Kerrigan first became interested in astronomy during her tenure as an Education Intern at Lakeview Museum. She quickly became immersed in planetarium programming,presenting shows to the public and school groups. After receiving her Bachelor of Science from Bradley University in 2011, she began working full time for the museum as a Learning Coordinator. In this role, she regularly presented science and astronomy programs to a broad range of audiences. In 2014, she assumed the role of Planetarium Curator, responsible for managing all aspects of the planetarium, including staff, budget, show creation, presentation, maintenance, participation in national and local astronomy organizations, and outreach activities. Quickly becoming known as the “Space Lady” in Peoria, Kerrigan regularly appears at public events and uses social media to promote science and astronomy, and hosts a popular series of adult events at the Peoria Riverfront Museum. She is incredibly excited for the chance to visit the observatories at the top of the world in Chile. Check out her blog at

Ryan Hannahoe ( is a middle school science teacher at Monforton School in Bozeman, MT. Ryan has been fascinated with the science of astronomy from an early age. He designed and built a telescope when he was in middle school and helped to pioneer remote astronomical observing during his years in high school. Ryan has been imaging the night sky digitally since 2001. Several of his deep-sky images have been featured on NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day. Before becoming a teacher, Ryan worked for New Mexico Skies Observatories, where he provided technical support for telescope projects for NASA, NOAO, Caltech, and PBS. Ryan is passionate about sharing the night sky and science with others and has contributed to educational content for NASA and the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum. Ryan also serves on the Education and Public Outreach Team for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). He has represented NASA to thousands of students, teachers, and community members across the country. His efforts with JWST have been recognized with the John C. Mather Nobel Scholar Award. During the summer months, he is the director of STEM camps for the Montana Learning Center (MLC), where he leads instruction for their Innovations in Engineering & Science camps. Having never traveled to the Southern Hemisphere, Ryan is looking forward to ACEAP. He aims to bring back his experiences in the program and observatory resources to benefit students and teachers in Montana.

Sarah Komperud ( is the Planetarium Educator at the Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. She travels around the state of Minnesota and western Wisconsin with the ExploraDome—an immersive, mobile planetarium that uses authentic data to bring the wonders of the Universe to over 11,000 people each year. Her tenure as an astronomy educator (and lover of astronomy) has led her to unexpected places including working in observatories, college labs, museums and planetariums; developing museum exhibits; and traveling to observatories in Australia and New Zealand. Actively involved with astronomy outreach, Sarah runs observing nights for scout groups and the public, gives talks at local astronomy society meetings, and develops fun, hands-on science activities for budding astronomers. In her free time Sarah enjoys rock climbing and tango dancing.

Shannon Schmoll ( started teaching astronomy while an undergraduate at the University of Washington, where she helped coordinate observing nights at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory, taught intro astronomy lab sections, presented planetarium shows, and worked with K-12 students in their classrooms. She went to graduate school at the University of Michigan to be an astronomer and originally studied supermassive black hole spin. While she loved it, her love of teaching and outreach caught up with her. She became the graduate student outreach coordinator and continued to teach undergraduate classes, primarily teaching Naked Eye astronomy in a planetarium at UM. She realized she wanted to make a career out of teaching astronomy to the public and switched gears to complete a joint PhD in astronomy and education. Her dissertation research was on how to integrate planetarium field trips into formal K-12 education using the digital planetarium at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History. While there she also finished a certificate in museum studies to gain a different view on informal learning. After graduating, she worked as the STEM education specialist at the Field Museum in Chicago before returning to astronomy. She is now the director of the Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University and serves on the International Planetarium Society’s education committee where she continues to explore new ways of teaching the public the wonders of the universe.

Vivian White ( has been an astronomy educator with the Astronomical Society of the Pacific since 2006. She uses her degree in physics, a Dobsonian telescope, and a fascination with human learning to inspire people to look up in wonder at the riches of the night sky. Working mostly in informal science settings, her background has also included training classroom teachers in hands-on astronomy through Project ASTRO and inspiring middle school students with practical math. She currently designs activities for amateur astronomers engaged in public outreach through the NASA Night Sky Network, a coalition of over 450 astronomy clubs across the US. She is also researching meaningful astronomy experiences for preschool children in museums through an NSF grant. A suite of activities for 3- to 5-year-olds will be released in early 2016 through the Astronomy from the Ground Up community. Vivian enjoys sharing the splendors of the night sky on sidewalks, in observatories, through camps, and in local and national parks. Her love of the sky has taken her far and wide – the most recent adventure involved teaching astronomy to Buddhist monks in India. When not pondering our path through the universe, she can be found musing off center at her kick wheel or splashing in tide pools of northern California with her young son.

ACEAP Leadership Team

Tim Spuck (;1 434-244-6804) is PI for the ACEAP project, and is the  STEM Education Development Officer for AUI embedded at NRAO. Prior to this role, he spent 25 years teaching high school and college classes  in earth and space sciences, and served as a K–12 Science Department Chairperson and Planetarium Manager at Oil City High School. Tim has also been deeply involved in the amateur astronomy community, serving as the co-founder and president for the Oil Region Astronomical Society in NW Pennsylvania. He has led initiatives to construct a community observatory as well as an internationally based robotic telescope in Australia, a variety of student astronomy research projects, teacher enhancement programs, and curriculum development initiatives. His work in science/astronomy outreach has taken him to Chile, Japan, Greenland, and Antarctica. He led the initial amateur astronomy visit to Chile in October 2013 to explore the idea of creating the Ambassador’s Program.

Mary Mayo (; 1 434-296-0358) is the Program Administrator for the Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program (ACEAP) as well as the Administrative Assistant for the NRAO Technology Center (NTC) and the Central Development Lab (CDL) in Charlottesville, VA.  Mary will be coordinating meetings and travel for the program.  Please contact her with any questions that you may have.  Mary has worked at NRAO for over 20 years.

Charles Blue (, ACEAP co-PI, is public information officer for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, publicizing the science results and technology milestones for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and the Green Bank Telescope (GBT). He has more than 20 years of strategic communications experience in science, engineering, and technology. Charles has worked as the director of media services at the American Institute of Physics. He also served as the Writer/Editor for the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Engineering and the media relations specialist for the Thirty Meter Telescope Project. Charles is also the former president of the D.C. Science Writers Association. He has lived in the Costa del Sol in Spain and routinely travels to Chile to serve as a liaison and escort for media representatives visiting the ALMA telescope.

Peter Michaud ( manages Gemini Observatory’s Public Information and Outreach (PIO) offices (both Hawai‘i and Chile) from the observatory’s headquarters in Hilo, Hawai‘i. Prior to taking the helm of Gemini’s PIO effort almost 16 years ago, Peter managed the Bishop Museum’s planetarium in Honolulu. During his tenure of nearly a decade at Bishop Museum, notable “high-points” included leading a film crew to the summit of Mauna Kea for the 2001 total solar eclipse, followed by a public eclipse tour to South America in 2004. In addition to his admitted eclipse addiction, Peter is passionate about science education and inspiring students to pursue STEM careers. He also enjoys amateur telescope making, climbing unreasonably long hills on his bicycle, and striving for unobtainable perfection as an audiophile. Peter has two children, whom he is proud to say aren’t afraid of their inner-nerds. He dreams that his offspring will follow in his footsteps and earn degrees in one of the STEM fields –– like his B.S. degree in meteorology (augmented by secondary teaching certification in physical science education).

Stephen Pompea ( is an innovative teacher, inventor, and scientist. He did his Ph.D. in astronomy at the University of Arizona. He served as instrument scientist for the NASA NICMOS instrument for the Hubble Space Telescope and as infrared instrument scientist for the Gemini 8-meter telescopes project. He has been a leader of many NSF-funded national science education projects in the areas of instructional materials development, public programs, informal science education, teacher and student research, and teacher professional development. In 2011 Dr. Pompea was awarded the Esther Hoffman Beller Medal from the Optical Society of America for his contributions to optical sciences education and especially for his work in creating the Galileoscope student telescope kit. He is a Fellow of SPIE and the Optical Society of America. He leads education and public outreach programs at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. He was named as the first NOAO Observatory Scientist in 2014.

Leonor Opazo ( is responsible for the administration matters relating the total functioning of the observatory. Since 2006 she has lead the development of the highly acclaimed NOAO’s education and public outreach program in Chile. Responsible for the implementation of a strategic plan for education and public outreach evaluated yearly by a national committee of US science education experts. Responsible for the creation and management of facilities and programs such as “CADIAS” (Centro de Apoyo a la Didáctica de la Astronomía – Astronomy Teaching Support Center), a unique science education center located in the community of Altovalsol, near La Serena. Also responsible for the “CTIO-Visitor Center” functioning in the “Blanco” 4-m telescope since the early 70’s, “Chile Dark Sky Education Program”, serving nearly a hundred schools, and the “Teaching with Galileoscopes Project”, among many other astronomy informal education projects.”

Manual Paredes is a journalist from Chile with a wide experience in documenting and producing visual content about engineering processes and technical milestones related to telescopes and astronomy. Originally based in Santiago as a reporter for agency news and other media agencies, he received a Major in Journalism and a BA in Social Communications at Universidad Nacional Andrés Bello. Also, he was part of the IESL program of the University of Lousville, and other social media management trainings at UC Berkley. Currently he is leading the Public Information Office of Gemini South and, at the same time, is working in the production and writing of the first Chilean book about Astrophotography, financed by the Consejo de la Cultura y las Artes of the Chilean Government.

Juan Seguel ( is the Coordinator of EPO and Engineer & Science Education at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO).