Babble is partnering with the creators of Disney Junior’s new show Miles from Tomorrowland to bring you a series on kids and technology. With the help of leading experts in the STEM community, we hope to highlight the importance of instilling ambition, creativity, and exploration in today’s kids, tomorrow’s future leaders.
When I was little, I had all sorts of dreams.
Everyone knew I wanted to be an astronaut — namely because I would tell anyone who was willing to listen. Most people knew that I was also obsessed with basketball, and I just assumed that if I wanted to be in the NBA, I could. Few people knew that I read every John Grisham novel starting from the age of 12 and wanted to be a lawyer.
But no one knew that I was going to be the first professional basketball player licensed to practice law on Mars. That was my little secret, and it kept me going in school.
Even as an adult today, my interests change much more quickly than I wish they did. I am truly addicted to trying new things! From photography to sewing to playing the guitar, I am, at best, mediocre at each. But a large part of me is proud of myself for trying. I hope I never lose that desire — to try. After all, my greatest achievement isn’t actually achieving the ultimate goal but rather that I at least tried. This mentality has been instilled in me ever since I was a kid.
As a young girl, I used to pop in a tape of Space Camp, the movie released just after the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster in the ’80s. (Yes, these were the ol’ VCR days where one could record anything from the TV right onto a tape and then incessantly play it over and over. And over …)
Every time I watched it, I got lost in my imagination. I was Katherine, the lead character who wanted to be the first female space shuttle commander. I had a robot friend named Jinx who could cause a major failure and send me into space. I could feel the vibrations of launch.
Because of that movie, I decided to become an astronaut.
After that, I soon became obsessed with technical concepts. I worked outside with my parents even more fervently than before. We owned a small, family-run motel in a little town in west Texas. I fixed toilets and jack-hammered to reach the sewer line. I used a snake to unclog drains. I tinkered with broken televisions and helped my parents fix ancient refrigerators. All the while, I imagined that someday, I would fix things in space.
All of this shows that Hollywood has an opportunity to influence kids, whether they intended for it or not. I am living proof that young kids watch the products of Hollywood and are inspired by them. Or turned away by them. It’s a serious responsibility.
There are a host of shows and movies that could easily be credited for inciting an excitement in science and engineering like Star Trek, MacGyver, and Disney Junior’s latest space-exploring cartoon called Miles from Tomorrowland.
There’s a theme to these shows: it’s what could be. It’s exploration. It’s imagination. It pulls you in like a moon to a planet.
As a mother, I am in a constant internal battle on whether my son gets screen time. When I step back, I realize that this generation is going to be in front of a screen no matter how much I try to prevent or prolong it. He is constantly observing the world, with a plethora of people whose heads are bent staring at their phones. He is part of a generation where I cannot even imagine the tools and gadgets that will be commonplace when he is my age.
I’ve decided I can just be strategic with his influences. But most importantly, I realized that had my parents kept me from television, I may have never met Katherine from Space Camp. I may have never developed a drive to explore. Or maybe I would have. We’ll never know.
Role models are critical, whether they are on TV or in school or in the office. It’s often said: you cannot be what you cannot see. Even more importantly, though, I believe a mentor is the catalyst to positive change and growth. I have had mentors in the form of parents, siblings, teachers, colleagues, and formally assigned mentors.
I believe we can all be mentors, and I am willing to bet that we get as much out of it as the mentees do. It is an incredible feeling to have someone tell you that you are the reason she decided to work for NASA. It is absolutely humbling. I can easily think of specific mentors who helped pave my path from growing up in a small town plagued with drugs and gangs to becoming an engineer for NASA. It’s amazing the power of one — the influence and positive change that takes only one person.
Each of my mentors ultimately helped me find my own way to the ultimate goal: astronaut.
Against all realistic odds, I was selected for an interview in the 2013 astronaut selection. I didn’t actually get selected as an astronaut that year, but the experience alone was enough to inspire me to never give up. In the end, if I never make it into space to witness the beauty of this planet with my own eyes, at least I can say I tried.