Tracy Fanara remembers the day she knew what she wanted to do. An elementary teacher was talking about the 1978 Love Canal disaster, in which barrels of chemicals from a toxic landfill dislodged and bled into the Niagara Falls, NY water table and leached into backyards, basements and a schoolyard. The disaster resulted in the creation of the EPA Superfund and a host of new regulations.
“That’s what sparked my interest in environmental engineering,” she recalled, “protecting people from natural disasters, making sure they have clean water and food to survive.”
As for Tamara Robertson? It took a little longer, but the way it happened was equally random. “I grew up taking things apart — not always a good thing!” she laughed. “I’ve always been a tinkerer, naturally curious. Only when I was a sophomore in college, did I realize engineering could be an option, but at the time, the only thing I knew about it was that Scotty was an engineer on Star Trek.”
Two amazing careers germinated from these casual early brushes with science — part of the point they make every day in their work with younger STEM students. Dr. Fanara manages coastal and national modeling efforts for NOAA, a most crucial job in these times of sea-level rise and coastal change. Dr. Robertson is the co-host of the Science Channel’s Mythbusters Jr. with Adam Savage, former co-host of Mythbusters 2.0, and engineering consultant and wardrobe designer — a fascinating combination. Together, they presented a virtual session in the recent SciFest All Access, produced by USA Science & Engineering Festival; Tamara co-hosted the entire event as well.
They also co-publish the Seekers of Science comic, a fun mixture of cool animation and sound, teen-grabbing science, which has a circulation of hundreds of thousands and is a huge hit among students and parents alike.
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