Emily Calandrelli talks Bill Nye and STEM education

You may not have heard of Emily Calandrelli, but starting April 21 (today!), she might just be in your living room as a correspondent on Bill Nye Saves the World. Emily's space and science background is fascinating, and she was nice enough to sit down with me to discuss her many achievements and what led her to Bill Nye.

Emily was born in Morgantown, West Virginia, to a family that had never left the state for work. She'd always been interested in math and science (with a special interest in calculus) but had never considered a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) career. Though many people who end up in space-related fields dream about being an astronaut, Emily didn't start out with such lofty goals.

"When I got to college, I discovered how many incredible opportunities NASA offered students pursuing a career in the space industry. Because of these opportunities (internships, paid research, scholarships, etc), I decided to go into aerospace engineering," Emily says. She credits the NASA Education Office for helping her find her way into an engineering field; through NASA, she was able to secure not one but two internships while pursuing her undergraduate degree at West Virginia University.

Emily worked at NASA's Glenn Research Center after her sophomore year, researching micro spray jet engines, but it was really the second internship that clicked for her: a program called the NASA Academy. "They chose 13 students to be part of this program (it's actually where I met my fiancé) that were supposed to be ‘the future leaders of the space industry,'" Emily explains. "We worked on a group project related to searching for liquid water on Mars and NASA's Phoenix Lander. We also toured some of the greatest space facilities in the U.S. (from SpaceX to Johnson Space Center). It was one of the most fulfilling summers of my life."

After graduating from West Virginia University with a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering and Aerospace Engineering, graduate school seemed like a natural next step for Emily. Her destination? The Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "When I got to MIT I discovered a really interesting Master's program called the Science and Technology and Policy Program — it taught people with a background in STEM how to think about science and tech from a policy perspective. It was a great way to understand how to communicate science to a policymaker or a layperson." She graduated in 2013 with a Masters in Aeronautics and Astronautics and a Masters in Technology and Policy.

It might seem easy to attribute what came next to chance, but it's because of Emily's hard work that she received an email from a production company. "I received an email from Steve Rotfeld Productions asking me if I'd be interested in being the host of an outer space TV show on FOX. It was completely out of the blue and one of the most exciting things that have ever happened to me." Emily had previous on-camera experience through YouTube videos she'd made while at WVU on the benefits of an engineering education. She thought this sounded like a good post-school opportunity, never dreaming it'd turn into her long-term career. "I was in the market for a job and figured, what the heck, let's go on an adventure and try this TV thing out for a while. If it fails, I have four engineering and science degrees to fall back on!" Emily exclaims.

It turned into the opportunity of a lifetime. As the host and producer of Xploration Outer Space for four years, she's had the opportunity to reach countless people and talk about science. Xploration Outer Space is part of Xploration Station, a two-hour block of STEM programming that airs on FOX affiliates, usually on Saturday mornings. "It may seem counterintuitive, but I think we're moving into a time where people want more high quality/creative educational programming (more than they want reality TV)," says Emily.

From flying on the Vomit Comet with astronaut Cady Coleman to understanding g-forces at an amusement part with astronaut Jon McBride, Emily has had countless new and amazing experiences through the show. "Last week I went skydiving to show how a parachute can help deliver a payload (me!) to a planetary body (Earth!) — although I can't say I thoroughly enjoyed that particular (terrifying) experience," she reminisces.

The best part of the job, though? The inside insight into what's happening in space. "We get a behind-the-scenes look at some of the most influential companies in the space industry. We get to see where the rockets and satellites are built and meet the geniuses behind the most ambitious space exploration projects ... I get to meet the most interesting people in the field, ask them any question I want and get a close-up look at the technologies they're building. I'm very lucky."

But that's not the only place you can catch Emily Calandrelli. Starting April 21 (today!), you'll see her as a correspondent on Bill Nye's new Netflix show, Bill Nye Saves the World. Like most jobs, she had to interview for it. "I met Bill Nye about a year ago to talk about the gig and I was so nervous to meet him. But I had absolutely nothing to worry about. Bill is exactly as nice (and knowledgeable) as you would imagine he'd be." It was with bated breath that she waited to hear back, and when she finally did? "I was in the airport when I found out I got the job. I screamed a little and cried a bit (probably making it awkward for the people sitting next to me) — it was just such a dream come true."

And working with Bill Nye? Well, it's just as incredible as you think it'd be. "You're learning from the best. This is a guy who has spent his whole career finding creative ways to get people excited about science and technology. He has so many stories to tell and so much knowledge to impart. During meetings, he would always have a little experiment to show to the group and provide some type of science lesson to us all. He's very genuine — constantly learning and always teaching. Definitely someone I admire and want to learn from as I grow in my career."

Emily hopes that this show will do for science what The Daily Show With Jon Stewart did for politics. "The Daily Show took a topic — politics — which many people considered to be boring, confusing or even annoying to learn about, and found a way to make it interesting, digestible and fun. I believe Bill Nye Saves the World can do the same for science," says Emily.

When she's not hosting or appearing on TV shows, Emily is writing books. "My newest project that I'm really excited about is my Ada Lace chapter book series. This books feature a young girl, Ada Lace, who has a knack for science and technology and a nose for trouble. She builds robots and gadgets and works with her quirky neighbor Nina to solve mysteries in her neighborhood.

"I'm excited about this project because I think Ada can be a new type of STEM role model for kids. Today, there aren't many options for kids to read books about adventure or technology with a female lead. Representation is so important because it's hard for kids to want to be what they can't see. Little girls and boys need to know that it's natural for girls to love science and tech."

The first two books, publishing from Simon & Schuster, are available for preorder now and will publish on August 29.

You can find Emily on Xploration Outer Space and Bill Nye Saves the World (premiering April 21 -- today!) and preorder Ada Lace on the Case and Ada Lace Sees Red.

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