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Historic civilian space missions launch hope for future scientists in Roanoke

Dr. Beth A. Brown Science Foundation fosters Roanoke youth’s interests in science

Historic civilian space missions launch hope for future scientists in Roanoke
Historic civilian space missions launch hope for future scientists in Roanoke

ROANOKE, Va. – “These scientists and engineers of the future and the near future have to come from some place and there is no reason why they can’t come from Roanoke,” said John Goss.

That’s the thinking behind the Dr. Beth A. Brown Science Foundation, Goss sits on the board of directors for the foundation.

The goal is to help kids’ interests in space go beyond this world, just like the woman who the foundation is modeled after.

Photo of the late Dr. Beth A. Brown, a Roanoke native and astrophysicist at NASA in Maryland. She died suddenly in October 2008. Courtesy of Frances Brown. (Copyright 2021 by WSLS 10 - All rights reserved.)

Brown was a Roanoke native. At the time of her sudden death in October 2008, she worked at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland as an astrophysicist.

Brown’s physics teacher at William Fleming High School, Dr. James Tarter, saw the love she had for space when they met her senior year.

“She really moved into meeting challenges, instead of backing off of them,” said Dr. Tarter, who also sits on the foundation’s board.

Brown graduated high school in 1987 as valedictorian, went on to graduate from Howard University and got her masters and doctorate at the University of Michigan. She was the first African American woman to get a doctorate in astronomy from that department.

Years after her death, in 2011, her mother Frances Brown created the foundation to cultivate local youth’s interest in space.

“Up at James Madison University they have a science summer space camp. We’ve been sponsoring a young person to go up there every summer,” said Goss.

The foundation even awards money to graduating high school seniors planning to study astronomy or physics.

The hope is that the two historic civilian space missions by Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos will capture the attention of younger generations. When they are ready to follow up on those fascinations with space, the foundation will be right there to support them.

“They may think, ‘I want to do this, I want to help the world, I want to make this a better place, this is one way I can do that. I can pursue this and it’ll all work out and that the foundation is there to help them along to make sure that happens,’” said Goss.

“There are so many people behind the scenes who go into whatever you get to see, especially when you get into huge projects,” Tarter said. “Many people could be going into this field but they disqualify themselves just by assumptions so we want to encourage the people who should be considering this.”

Dr. Beth A. Brown’s life and work is recognized throughout the city of Roanoke. Her name and photo is on display at the Science Museum of Western Virginia’s Shoulders of Giants Staircase.

In 2012, a hall at William Flemings High School was named and dedicated to Brown along with a display featuring photos and memorabilia of her time at the school and beyond.

Apple Ridge Farm in Roanoke dedicated the camp’s STEM lab in honor of Dr. Brown in 2017.

To learn more and contact the Dr. Beth A. Brown Science Foundation, click here.

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You can currently catch Megan Woods living out her wildest dreams as a reporter every weekday morning on Virginia Today.