After 20 years, Associate Director Jay Staker is retiring from the NASA Iowa Space Grant Consortium (ISGC).
When he started at ISGC, Staker was the Assistant Director for Education and focused on the precollege outreach programs for ISGC. This position evolved into an Associate Directorship and his job was to help administer the daily operations, proposal development and report with the precollege outreach program. Throughout his 20 years, he has also served as the Interim Director for ISGC multiple times.
Over the years, Staker’s main role has been developing and delivering NASA-related STEM programming for ISGC.
“I cannot separate out a favorite part of this job as far as the work I do. I have enjoyed most of the work along the way and especially appreciate the variety of work I get to do. It’s the people that I have worked with that have brought me the most satisfaction. In Iowa, with other Space Grants, and at NASA, I have had the privilege to serve some fantastic directors and work with great teams that have led to some long lasting friendships. I have learned so much from my colleagues and hope that I have contributed things of value as well.”
At this stage of his career, Staker draws great satisfaction from well-crafted proposals and reports that tell the story of Iowans as it relates to his work with NASA.
“We have a great story to tell. I have also had so many rewarding experiences in working with youth in STEM. Seeing the ‘aha’ moment is amazing. We also have been able to offer assistance to faculty and students and watching them grow and succeed is truly an enriching experience. With COVID, I miss having the opportunity to visit with our clients and offer assistance in their STEM path.”
Staker believes ISGC is a valuable player in the Iowa economy and the development of our current and emerging STEM workforce. Jay says that Iowa’s need for a skilled workforce that can advance STEM in Iowa or at NASA is critical for our economy. The ISGC also helps the STEM workforce get established and provide payback to Iowa’s economy.
“If you walk through the Johnson Space Center or Marshall Space Flight Center and ask the employees where they went to school, you will find a large number of Iowans who are now shaping our future endeavors in space science and exploration. ISGC also brings the inspiration of Space to Iowans of all ages and experiences and instills a love of STEM and exploration.”
Early on in Staker’s career with ISGC, he worked with the Johnson Space Center to develop a program that connected Iowa youth with NASA astronauts that were in space. The children were able to ask live questions to astronauts in space. They also had an astronaut visit Iowa and worked with the groups at the Iowa State Center. This program was set up by ISGC’s educational partners, Iowa Public Television, NASA, and a digital communication network that Iowa developed early on in the digital age. The program reached Iowan’s all over the state and demonstrated the value of bringing teams together to accomplish what seemed to be impossible at the time.
“Some of my favorite memories are related to taking teachers to NASA centers for on-site professional development provided by NASA scientists and engineers. These trips were the beginning of many great long-term partnerships that advanced our work with NASA. Sitting in the mission control that took us to the moon was unbelievable to a small-town Iowa boy whose life was concurrent with NASA. Sitting in those chairs was surreal and brought such vivid memories of our mission to reach the moon and watching Neal Armstrong set foot on the moon. Another amazing result of working with ISGC is being able to walk into the Science Center of Iowa, The Putnam Museum, The Grout Museum District, or National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium and feel like I was at home. Such amazing partners have supported my work along the way and I can never fully explain how rewarding it is to work with such amazing STEM educators that give so much.”
In regards to retirement, it is not a concept Staker struggles with.
“I don’t want to quit working on such amazing projects with even more amazing people. Hopefully, I can slow down a bit but continue to contribute to STEM in Iowa. One thing I look forward to with additional time is to be able to take my wife to all the amazing places I have been able to visit along my career pathway. Perhaps I can get back to Kennedy Space Center to see a launch of Artemis as we return to the moon. I also hope to be able to write more.”
“These 20 years have flown by and I am so thankful to have what I consider to be the best job anyone can have. The joy of making a difference with such amazing people is such a great reward. Leaving the current ISGC team is a tough step to take. ISGC has the best team anyone could ever have the privilege of working with. I am grateful for the experiences and am so thankful for all the people I have been able to connect with along the way. It’s been a great ride.”
Jay and his wife, Dea, on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, October 2005.