After a career in the aerospace industry that spanned more than 20 years, Scarlet Richardson Parenteau ’85 often finds herself often called upon to talk about STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the important fields of study for 21st-century careers. Parenteau is a former flight director and flight controller for NASA missions. When she moved to New Mexico from Colorado to be closer to family this year, she was invited by the New Mexico Museum of Space History to speak at a STEM event that was part of a campaign by cultural institutions across the country to reach young people. Parenteau also recently started teaching STEM classes for elementary school students at the museum.
Growing up in the small rural community of Randleman during a time when young girls weren’t expected to enjoy math and science or to pursue careers in those disciplines, Parenteau defied the odds, majored in applied mathematics at WCU and took classes in chemistry, physics, geology and astronomy. After graduating, she moved to Denver, Colorado, and worked for 17 years at Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin) on the flight guidance software for the Titan IV project. After taking a break to teach school for 10 years, she returned to the aerospace industry in 2013 to work at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics based at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She served as flight controller and flight director for NASA’s 2015 mission to study magnetic reconnections that occur high above the earth and helped design, test and operate the ground system used to communicate with the mission’s instruments on four satellites.
Now semi-retired, Parenteau encourages STEM enthusiasm through programs she teaches at the New Mexico museum for budding astronauts and rocket scientists. Though her classes for elementary school students emphasize hands-on astrobiology, chemistry and physics, they include plenty of crafts, music and songs. “I’m in favor of programs that expose students to STEM, but also have art, music, theatre and outdoor activities for a well-rounded education,” she said. “Students should have fun. Some of the best engineers and scientists that I know work very hard, but also know how to have fun.”