Dr. Tess Caswell works to expand horizons through STEM


Postdoctoral Research Scientist Dr. Tess Caswell visited Sacred Heart Greenwich October 29. The stories of her experiences in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) inspired young women to pursue studies in these traditionally male-dominated areas and push themselves to grow as well-rounded, engaged students.
From volunteering at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska to working on developing the Blue Origin organization, Dr. Caswell recalls her interest in the STEM fields sparking at a young age.

“I became interested in STEM at age ten when a speaker from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) came to my school in Alaska,” Dr. Caswell said, according to challenger.org.  “I’ve been hooked ever since.”

Dr. Tess Caswell posing for a portrait at The Challenger Center.  Courtesy of Nick Dentamaro of challenger.org

Dr. Caswell attended Alaska University to study Geological Sciences and furthered her educational career in STEM by studying Earth Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Brown University.  She worked at Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory.
Since she was 12 years old, Dr. Caswell has been exploring different fields of science and astronomy.  Specifically, she has been actively involved with The Challenger Center, a non-profit organization that works to spread knowledge about Space Science Education after the fatal Challenger flight accident January 28, 1986.  Center Missions are space-themed simulation-based experiences and take place in a fully immersive Space Station and Mission Control, according to challenger.org.

As of July, Dr. Caswell has been a part of the development team of a new aerospace company Blue Origin, that works to send rockets to space and, upon their return, have them land safely in an upright position as if they were to take off again, according to smithsonianmag.com.

With similar goals of The Challenger Center, Blue Origin works to build a more safe and robust flight program for astronauts in the United States.  Blue Origin is a company that hopes to one day send millions of people to space through commercial space flight.  With their development of different technologies and rocket-powered vertical takeoff and vertical landing (VTVL) vehicles, their goal is to dramatically lower costs of space access and increase reliability during takeoff and landing.
Dr. Caswell’s work shines a light on the limited number of women working in STEM fields. Only 29.3 percent of women chose to pursue an occupation in environmental and geology sciences professionally, and only 22.4 percent of women are professionally pursuing a career in computer programing, according to aauw.org.

Mr. Joel Padilla, Upper School Math Teacher, Academic Dean for the Class of 2020, and Chair of the Upper School Math Department, hopes to expand the STEM fields at Sacred Heart by giving young women the opportunity to learn more about different sciences.

Ms. Nancy Greco, Dr. Peggy Whitson, Dr. Tess Caswell, Mr. Zachary Lemnios, Mr. Dan Barstow, and Ms. Mary Musolino talking during the evening panel October 29.  Daisy Steinthal ’19 and Caroline Baranello ’20

“As with all areas of study, I think getting exposure to as many academic subjects as possible works towards making students well-rounded,” Mr. Padilla said.  “Because technology is in the news and is a part of our everyday life, having knowledge of various STEM fields prepares students to have educated discussions about technology and science.”

As STEM becomes a growing subject of interest, Dr. Caswell believes it is crucial that children get the opportunity to be exposed to each different field of science at a young age.

“STEM education at a young age gives kids the tools that will empower them to pursue STEM careers,” Dr. Caswell said, according to challengercenter.org.  “STEM education in the higher grades can be challenging, so equipping all students with the right skillset to tackle intimidating subjects like math and physics before they become daunting is crucial.”

– Sofia Pye, Staff Writer

Featured Image by Daisy Steinthal ’19 and Caroline Baranello ’20