Since I was in kindergarten, I’ve had my eye on the sky. From accidentally wandering into the nonfiction section in my elementary school library to writing my first science fiction essay in middle school, my childhood flew by while I carefully planned for my life to revolve around my dream job of becoming an astronaut. While I knew the risks and the challenges that came with pursuing a career in space exploration, my drive and passion for the subject continued to motivate me. With the support of my parents, I had the privilege to pair childhood summers with several camps across the East Coast that focused on space and engineering, the best of them being Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama and an astronomy overnight camp at Alfred University. While at these programs, I piloted a simulation of a space shuttle, became a flight director on a specialized mission control team, and spent nocturnal nights gazing up at the stars.
When I entered high school, I tackled STEM courses with a heavy emphasis on physics, knowing that the technical elements of science and astronomy would prepare me for my dream job at NASA. During my high school experience, I was privileged to have mentors in the form of family members and friends who pushed me to challenge myself through humanities courses and writing programs alongside my STEM pursuits. As I applied for colleges, I saw that my academic interests began to become multi-faceted and I looked first and foremost for programs that I felt would support me in my growing interests in not only astronomy, but policy efforts as well. Fast-forward to 2019 and I had been accepted into the orange-bubble dream school in my home state of New Jersey, Princeton University. Once at Princeton, I declared my major to be Astrophysical Sciences and was met with a star-studded (pun intended) faculty and staff full of researchers who have a profound and growing impact on the field of Astrophysics.
I have often used the words “out of place” to describe everything from the feelings surrounding my own identity as a first-generation Filipino-American to the struggles I have had while advocating for my research interests in both space and public policy. Starting in March 2020, from Zoom seminars and back to in-person lecture halls, my college experience (as with everyone’s life mid-pandemic) was unusual at best and challenging at worst. I was constantly and consistently challenged to perform well during an intense academic experience as well as cope with growing into my own identity both inside and outside of the classroom. While college is a formative experience for all, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by a caring community of mentors who helped me find spaces and opportunities that allowed me to chart out what I wanted my career to be post-graduation. Through numerous independent research projects, my first AAS conference, and an eye-opening research experience in Santiago, Chile that included a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Atacama Desert and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) highsite, I found my voice in recognizing the necessary intersection between government, private entities, space science, and community outreach.
A few months ago, as my time at Princeton came to an end, I began to think critically of where I see myself in the long term. A question I will continue to struggle with as I grow up, I have come to the determination that I believe my place is to be seated at the table where I can contribute to impactful space policy decisions, cutting-edge research, and a more productive understanding of how to align the two. In order to find that seat, I broadened my career search to include science and technology policy graduate programs as well as nonprofits. With the help of the mentors I found after joining the AAS Committee for the Protection of Astronomy and the Space Environment (COMPASSE) I was guided towards applying for the advocacy fellowship position with DarkSky International. Previously unaware of the work that DarkSky was accomplishing in the field of Dark Sky conservation, I quickly fell into a deep dive of their website, social media, and the broad connections that linked night sky-loving individuals from around the world. Just a few weeks after discovering what a Dark Sky Park was, I jumped at the opportunity to accompany a fellow classmate on a science journalism trip to Cherry Springs, PA. Even in six inches of snow, I still reminisce fondly at the clearest sky that I had ever seen in the United States, a 5 hour trip outside of my home state of New Jersey.
When I interviewed for this position, I fell in love even more, not just with the cause, but with the individual personalities that power the passion behind the movement. Speaking to Michael Rymer and Bettymaya Foott re-ignited the passion I had for the night sky in the same way that my star-gazing trips always do. The entire staff at DarkSky International has a tendency to rub off on one like that, and my favorite part of my weeks here are still the staff meetings that buzz with energy and comradery even after running a 24 hour long international conference. Today, as I find myself working alongside astronomy enthusiasts, astrophotographers, engineers, policy makers, and advocates, I finally feel as if that three letter phrase “out of place” has been inverted. While the light pollution that continues to streak our dark skies is out of place amongst the view of the stars, I have found that I am in place to help make a change.
Learn more about becoming a DarkSky Advocate.