Liza Coe

Code V Program Director for the NASA Ames Academy for Space Exploration
NASA Ames Research Center

For over 25 years now, I've been making my way to NASA Ames nearly every weekday morning - with the exception of a few swing and graveyard shifts - and also vacations! I began my career designing and developing computer imagery system (CGI) applications for flight simulation at NASA Ames' Vertical Motion Simulator ( This work included development of extremely high fidelity imagery for fixed wing and rotorcraft simulation, as well as head-up and head-down displays for the Space Shuttle and military applications. I later focused on incorporating graphic visual displays into wind tunnel data representation.

Having decided to enact my not-yet-middle-age crisis on the career front, I took leave for one year to attend Stanford's Teacher Education Program (STEP) to earn a Master's in Education as well as teaching credentials in mathematics and computer science. After returning to Ames I joined the Education Division and focused on the development of teacher education workshops. However, I had been seriously bitten by the academia bug and returned to Stanford's PhD program in Curriculum and Teacher Education, focusing on science education.

My research has focused on how teachers leverage informal education experiences inside their classrooms. For my dissertation I was lucky enough to be able to work with teachers who, with their students, participated in week-long residential camps at California's Marin Headlands - part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and one of the components of the environmental education-based Yosemite National Institutes. While about half of my research time was spent doing classroom observations and interviews, I got to spend the other half hiking around the gorgeous Headlands and learning as much natural science as I could absorb. My PhD minor is in geology, so I got my fill of sub-duction zone morphology courtesy of the San Andreas Fault which has left its mark in numerous ways on the Headlands.

Prior to the arrival of my two sons I took advantage of every field experience I could talk my way into. I spent several months on a tiny little island off the Katmai coast in Alaska excavating, identifying and cataloguing artifacts from an Indian civilization thousands of years old. Another favorite was spending a summer (their winter) in Western Australia tracing the Devonian extinction boundary in massive limestone and marble exposed reefs. Wanderlust has led me to spend many months (over time) working in and exploring the desert southwest as well as Alaska and, of course, California. If you ever need a travel guide on the West Coast, just let me know!
Now my time and energy (outside of work, of course!) is spent being mom to my two explorers-in-training. I am proud to say that they are world travelers and don't think twice about taking long plane rides to interesting places - if they can watch movies all night! They were both born in Russia and, since coming home have dragged their carry-ons with Mom to Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, Australia and just about everyplace in between. In between trips they go to second grade while Mom earns the money for the next trip!

My primary responsibility is to ensure the success of the Academy which means that I lead a team of professionals who are dedicated to making the mission of the NASA Academy a reality. I work everything from the "big picture" of what NASA's goals are for the Academy, how the Academy will work (i.e. how to provide cutting-edge research experiences as well as training in leadership and team building) and the organization of experiences outside of your daily research efforts to enhance your learning. This year brings new leadership and staff to the Academy and we are very interested in your thoughts about your experiences and learning so that we can evolve the program to be even better than it is. To this end, I will be conducting evaluations of the program elements as we go through the summer - so every once in a while I will be asking you to take a step back for a few minutes from your everyday activities and reflect on what you've learned and experienced. We're all looking forward to a great Academy and a wonderful summer in Northern California!