Press & Dakotan: Augustana Senior Selected for NASA Student Ambassadors Program

Centerville Man Selected For NASA Student Ambassadors Program

CENTERVILLE — Most people celebrate an anniversary by exchanging gifts or going out to dinner.

Instead, Dan Johnson is buying a telescope.

The Centerville man has been selected as one of 43 college students nationwide for the NASA International Year of Astronomy (IYA) Student Ambassadors Program. He was chosen from among 2,000 applicants for the NASA and National Space Grant Foundation program.

“The program runs through all of 2009,” Johnson said. “We are celebrating 400 years since Galileo made discoveries with a telescope.”

Johnson plans an appropriate purchase to mark the anniversary.

“I will receive $2,000 stipend for participating as an IYA ambassador, and I will use it to purchase a telescope with a digital imager for photos,” he said. “I will use it at an observatory for pictures, and I will also work with it at events and with educators.”

Besides the $2,000 stipend, he will be reimbursed up to $700 at the end of the year to cover his expenses.

Johnson learned of the NASA program through Drew Alton, his physics and astronomy professor at Augustana College in Sioux Falls. The NASA program proved extremely competitive.

“You have to get a letter of recommendation from a professor in your major, which for me is elementary education,” Johnson said. “I also had to write two essays on how and what I could contribute as an ambassador for the program.”

Johnson was also in the running during the selection of two delegates to an international conference in Paris.

As a NASA student ambassador, Johnson will stimulate interest in astronomy — particularly NASA scientific discoveries — and the benefit for society. He remains open to invitations for speaking and giving demonstrations at events ranging from classrooms to observatories to community groups.

“I can visit museums, planetariums and amateur astronomy clubs,” he said. “We have training and events throughout the country.”

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Randy Dockendorf
Press & Dakotan