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Across Space and Time (Management)

Posted on Aug 27, 2019 by in The OFI Blog |

Julien Kearns, the 2019 Shirley Ann Jackson Science Intern at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (Photo by Chris Wu)

Julien Kearns is a DC native, rising junior at The School Without Walls Senior High School and the 2019 Shirley Ann Jackson Science Intern at the Smithsonian.

With a strong inclination towards STEM, Julien didn’t know what field to pursue until he began questioning and learning “how vast the universe is, its origins, and what it’s made of.” With ongoing inspiration drawn from Neil deGrasse Tyson’s, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Julien channeled his excitement over astrophysics into multiple internship applications and ultimately landed at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM).

Prior to his internship, Julien has been advancing through Algebra 2, Pre-Calculus, Chemistry and AP Physics early in his high school career. As a member of the School Without Walls Space Club, he has participated in rocket-building competitions that take place every year. Outside of school, Julien has also found opportunities at the Green Bank Observatory, studying pulsars, radio astronomy, and even analyzing datasets collected by the Green Bank Telescope.

Julien Kearns at the entrance to Explore the Universe at NASM (Photo by Chris Wu)

As a Smithsonian intern at NASM, Julien was able to keep up momentum by learning about daily programming, public outreach, and research in the Astronomy Education department, mentored by museum program specialist, Rebecca Ljungren.

Rebecca is a graduate of The George Washington University and American University. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Art History and a master’s degree in Museum Education. Through her broader interests in the intersections between science, gender, art, and society, Rebecca seeks to inspire life-long learners through accessible and inclusive experiences within museums and in daily life.

One example of accessible learning experiences can be seen in the NASM Discovery Stations, which are cart-based interactive vehicles. Alongside the Astronomy Education team, Julien would use the Discovery Station to help teach visitors about various subjects, ranging from blackholes to spectroscopy.

Julien teaching emissions spectra of specific elements at the Discovery Station (Photo by Chris Wu)

Another project Julien enjoyed was engaging the public on a regular basis at the Solar Observatory, teaching about the sun and wavelengths. Through his desire to innovate, Julien also drafted a project proposal to help make solar data interactive and more understandable within the Observatory, which would enhance public education even on days where the sun is blocked by clouds.

In addition to public education and outreach, Julien also managed his time to stay on top of research projects. Most recently, he wrote an article on NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, which is currently being reviewed by NASM curators.

Julien in front of the Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory (Photo by Chris Wu)

One of Julien’s favorite memories was engaging in public education during the Apollo 50 celebration week. Julien was able to conduct a similar Discovery Station session at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, showcasing spacesuit gloves, astronaut food, and meteorites. Through these activities, Julien mentioned that he learned “how much of a role the museum can play in public education, both on and off-site, by bringing the museum to the people.”

Within the Astronomy Education team, Julien was able to interact with many professionals of varying backgrounds and stages of academic achievement. This network of scholarship furthered his confidence in the many paths one can take in Astrophysics.

When asked about advice for future interns, Julien responded, “bring a jacket and a water bottle since it is very hot during the summer and very cold in the office.” Beyond that, he stressed the importance of time management in balancing multiple projects and to not be afraid of asking for help. Furthermore, by focusing on his personal interests in astronomy, Julien was able to shape his own internship experience.

With new allies and support from the Smithsonian and the Astronomy Education department, Julien shared, “I am inspired to see how far I can go with Astrophysics.”


We believe that he will go far!


Chris Wu is a Program Assistant with the Smithsonian Office of Fellowships and Internships (OFI)

This article was written with help from OFI Program Assistant, Alex Capobianco.