Astronaut Wheelock Celebrates Scholars and Science at Wheelock


On Tuesday, November 11th and Wednesday, November 12th Astronaut Col. Douglas Wheelock visited Wheelock College for several exciting events to celebrate science, education and social justice, including the Passion for Action Leadership Award Reception, a celebration of the environmental studies major and a visit with Cambridge youth.

Col. Wheelock has flown in space twice, logging 178 days on the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station, and the Russian Soyuz.  On October 23, 2007, he launched on his first spaceflight aboard Space Shuttle Discovery. During the STS-120 mission, Col. Wheelock was Mission Specialist 3 on a multinational crew whose mission was to deliver the Node 2 module to the International Space Station. He participated in three spacewalks in order to perform mission critical tasks on the exterior of the Station.  Col. Wheelock took command of the International Space Station on September 22, 2010, thus becoming the first U.S. Army officer to command the ISS. That same year, he became the first person to “check in” from outer space using the mobile social networking application Foursquare. This act led to an amazing partnership between NASA and Foursquare to connect its users to the space agency, enabling them to explore the universe and discover Earth.

Visiting with Cambridge Vice Mayor Dennis Benzan and children from Community Art Center

Wheelock1Col. Wheelock’s visit began with a meeting with Cambridge Vice Mayor Dennis Benzan and children from Community Art Center. With the youth, Vice Mayor Benzan shared the work of the city’s STEM education taskforce and inspired budding scientists with his words, “Any kid in this room can be a scientist, an astronaut.”  Col. Wheelock then spoke on why he became interested in science, what science has meant to him, and his journey to becoming an astronaut.  “If you hear STEM, do whatever you can to get involved,” said Col. Wheelock.  Wheelock3

During the event, Vice Mayor Dennis Benzan presented Col. Wheelock with a congratulatory resolution from the city: “…his highest praise comes from the students he serves. Throughout his career, Douglas has worked tirelessly to make a difference in the lives of others. He enjoys sharing his passion for science, space and technology with youth and motivating them to pursue careers in exciting fields; now therefore be it resolved that the City Council go on record commending Douglas Wheelock for his years of service to our nation and thanking him for his dedication to inspiring our youth to succeed.”


Passion for Action Leadership Award Reception

Col. Wheelock with Passion for Action Scholars, advisers and President Jackie Jenkins-Scott.
Col. Wheelock with Passion for Action Scholars, advisers and President Jackie Jenkins-Scott.

On the evening on Tuesday, November 11th, Wheelock College and Col. Wheelock celebrated 17 Passion for Action Scholars and Veteran’s Day at the Passion for Action Leadership Award Reception. This reception honored deserving Wheelock students who have demonstrated a strong commitment to community service and social justice; it included a Passion scholar panel, Passion Scholar presentations, and meet and greets with the scholars.

Col. Douglas Wheelock delivered the keynote address on “The Overview Effect,” the term for the cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts and cosmonauts during spaceflight, often while viewing the Earth from orbit or from the lunar surface. Col. Wheelock grew up as “…just an ordinary kid from a small town, I never thought I had opportunities.”  His teachers inspired him to dream big. Col. Wheelock shared his philosophy behind success, failure, and perseverance. “Failure is part of life,” he said. It took him nine years of training before his first space flight. He advised the Scholars and the captivated audience to “Find your passion and live it with so much passion that people can’t keep their eyes off you.”


Environmental Studies Celebration

On Nov 12th, Col. Wheelock spoke to a packed room at the Earl Center for Learning and Innovation to celebrate one of Wheelock’s newest majors—Environmental Studies —and the Colleges of the Fenway minor in Sustainability. The event also highlighted the movement toward citizen science and the ways that studies of the environment and sustainability can and will affect the world we are all creating. Speakers included:


  • Ellen E. Faszewski, Chair of the Math/Science Department
  • Lisa Lobel, Assistant Professor of Biology & Director of the COF Center for Sustainability and the Environment
  • Alexandra Goyette, Wheelock ’15 BA Environmental Studies w/COF minor in Sustainability
  • Carolin Cardamone, Assistant Professor of Astronomy

Wheelock’s Environmental Studies major is an interdisciplinary degree, which gives students flexibility to explore the social, cultural, and scientific issues behind environmental and sustainability topics. In addition to core courses in the natural sciences, students also take courses in a variety of disciplines, e.g., math, health, food, energy, biodiversity, climate, history, culture, or policy. In this major, students are able to relate abstract concepts in the natural sciences to real-world examples. Today, students need new skills, include the ability to think and contribute outside their disciplinary boundaries and environmental studies is a perfect vehicle for doing so, according to Dr. Faszewski.

Wheelock6Keynote speaker Col. Wheelock shared amazing photos and videos from space, including those that show the devastating impacts of climate change. He stressed that anyone can make a positive impact if they dream big enough, but noted that a great deal of practice and preparation—and oftentimes a lot of failures—must come before you can achieve something great.  He said his guiding principle is “Chance favors the prepared mind,” meaning that if you prepare well enough you can overcome even the most daunting obstacles. . “It’s easy to point out where we’re going wrong,” he said. “Bring solutions to the table. You’ll be amazed at how people rally around you.”

You can find Col. Wheelock on Twitter @Astro_Wheels


More photos and tweets from Col. Wheelock visit are below: