Space Center Houston honors Cheesman

Jennifer Cheesman takes a break during a robotics session at the 24th Space Exploration Educators Conference at Space Center Houston. The nonprofit honored Cheesman with the Cherri Brinley Outstanding Educator Award at the three-day conference in front of 550 fellow teachers from around the world.

Space Center Houston honored a Sun City science teacher for her extraordinary efforts as a teacher with the Cherri Brinley Outstanding Educator Award Feb. 3 during the 24th Space Exploration Educators Conference.

Jennifer Cheesman, a sixth-grade science teacher at Zuni Hills Elementary School, earned the prestigious award for her dedication to overcoming barriers and commitment to putting her students first in her 22-year-career, said Daniel Newmyer, vice president of education for the nonprofit science and space exploration learning center.

“Jennifer makes an extraordinary effort to incorporate space exploration as part of her students’ lives,” Newmyer said. “She has the ability to translate complex science topics into easily understood concepts by using space in her classroom.”

Cheesman learned of a young boy fighting brain cancer whose first words were to recite the solar system. She sent the boy space-related mementos from her travels to various space-related events.

“Some teachers, ones like Jennifer, inspire, motivate and encourage kids … far beyond the walls of their school,” said Sonja Statz, the boy’s mother, who also is a teacher, in a written statement supporting Cheesman’s nomination. “They keep a little boy, now 6 years old, going strong every day.”

The award is named for the late Cherri Brinley, a Houston-area educator and space enthusiast who shared her passion for space science with students and fellow educators. Award recipients are leaders in education and recognized for helping to shape the future of students in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

The three-day conference brought together more than 500 educators from the United States, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Japan and Hong Kong for hands-on learning experiences with rocket scientists, astronauts and renowned instructors.

Space Center Houston offers teachers and students of all disciplines access to immersive learning experiences, Newmyer said.

“We’re not just teaching science to scientists,” said Newmyer. “It’s accessible to all and we have experts to help teachers and students connect the dots.”

The theme of this year’s conference was “Our Destination Beyond,” taking teachers beyond the classroom, beyond borders and beyond boundaries to use the power of space exploration science as an educational tool.

The conference featured NASA’s Year of Education on Station and included a video teleconference between astronaut Joe Acaba on the International Space Station and retired astronaut Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, who was in Houston for the event. Both are former educators.

Attendees asked questions of Acaba, which he answered while orbiting 250 miles above Earth.

The teachers earned up to 24 hours of continuing professional education credit, received numerous cross-curriculum ideas and ready-to-implement classroom activities, and made connections with STEM leaders during valuable networking opportunities.

The educators went behind the scenes of the astronaut training facilities at NASA Johnson Space Center and learned about the technology and research that is furthering NASA’s current and future deep-space missions.

For more information about Space Center Houston educational programs, visit

The Manned Space Flight Education Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit science and space exploration learning center with extensive educational programs. Space Center Houston is the cornerstone of its mission to inspire all generations through the wonders of space exploration. The center draws one million visitors annually, was called “The Big Draw” by USA Today, and generates a $73 million annual economic impact in the greater Houston area. Space Center Houston is a Smithsonian Affiliate and the Official Visitor Center of NASA Johnson Space Center. More than 250,000 teachers and students from around the world visit the center annually to experience the educational space museum with more than 400 things to see and do. For more information, go to