A conversation about Education and Public Outreach

Stephanie Renfrow (left) and Laura Peticolas lead education and public outreach efforts on behalf of MAVEN. In this joint post, the two leads discuss the program and what it means to them. (Courtesy MAVEN)

Stephanie Renfrow, MAVEN Education & Public Outreach lead & Laura Peticolas, EPO co-lead

Let’s start by asking a question: how is it that you know about Mars and current space exploration? For example, how did you come to find this blog posting?

The MAVEN Education and Outreach program is MAVEN’s way of reaching out to the public, students, and educational audiences to share the excitement and learning-power that surrounds a mission of this size. We do this through social media, classroom programming, teacher professional development, public lectures, museum programs, and every other way we can think of to spread the word. Do you ever wonder, who are the people who bring that information to you online, to the staff at the museums you visit, or to the teachers who spend time with your children?

In a nutshell, the answer is: that’s us! The EPO team for MAVEN works to find ways to bring the mission to you through every possible avenue (except via traditional journalists, which is the purview of Public Affairs). We are in many ways translators and educators. We translate the mission, engineering, and science in ways that teachers, afterschool providers, museum/science center staff, and others can use.

So, for MAVEN, we first did some research to uncover what audiences would most benefit from learning about Mars’ atmosphere. This research, together with our team’s expertise, gave us a starting point in selecting partners and projects to develop a full education and public outreach plan. With the plan reviewed, tweaked, and approved, we’ve been able to use it as our blueprint in developing and implementing the program you see.

We also work hard to understand perspectives from many different people and learn in what ways other NASA Mars missions have been successful in engaging people, perhaps people like you. We even tap into our non-science circles from time-to-time. Both of us talked extensively with family and friends about the Mars Curiosity rover and how it connects to what we do. While our personal networks “rediscovered” our professional lives as they asked us questions, we learned what Curiosity educational activities really caught their attention and made them want to learn more. We now can apply what we learned from these conversations and many others with people from around the country into our own MAVEN educational programs.

In addition to enjoying the opportunity to answer everyone’s questions, the Curiosity landing served as an incredible reminder for just how exciting exploration of Mars is to millions of people. In our view, we have the best job on the whole mission: we get to share how your tax payer dollars take us to new scientific and technical heights, while finding meaningful ways to connect with your sense of wonder and facilitate making personal ties to science and the learning process. It is thrilling to explore Mars. It is thrilling to share the new discoveries to kindle real people’s excitement for science and exploration!

Over the coming months, we’ll be highlighting some of our EPO programming here on the blog—stay tuned to learn more, and in the mean time, visit “Education & Outreach” at!