From GW to Award-Winning Aviation Learning Educator

Alumna Trystan Popish teaching during a Family Weekend Workshop at the National Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA. Popish recently won the 2014 Wendell G. Mohling Outstanding Aerospace Award from the National Science Teacher Foundation. (Photo: Julia Cannell)

Alumna Trystan Popish at Family Weekend Workshop at the National Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA, where she is the Aviation Learning Center educator. Popish recently received the 2014 Wendell G. Mohling Outstanding Aerospace Award from the National Science Teacher Foundation. (Photo: Julia Cannell)

Trystan Popish, GSEHD MA ’10, was at the dentist for a routine appointment when she received a decidedly non-routine e-mail; she had received the 2014 Wendell G. Mohling Outstanding Aerospace Educator Award from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).

“I’d prepared myself for the typical rejection letter,” says Popish, who was nominated for the award by a colleague, “so it took me a couple of readings to convince myself I’d actually been selected.”

The award, which provides $3000 to the recipient, recognizes excellence in the field of aerospace education—a perfect match for Popish, who is the Aviation Learning Center (ALC) educator at The Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA.

Popish spends her days working with students and promoting the field of aviation. ALC students delve into the world of a pilot by learning what topics pilots study in ground school, climbing inside a real plane and reviewing it for safety issues and by piloting their own plane in a simulator.

“The students are incredibly excited. It’s a pretty awesome way to spend the work day,” says Popish.

And she has had her own share of exciting days during her tenure—including the time a local pilot took a group of museuem staff members for a spin in her Cirrus plane, released the controls and let them fly for a spell. At a 2012 event gala, Popish met mission controllers, astronauts and cosmonauts from the first 50 years of human space exploration—including astronaut Ken Mattingly (played by Gary Sinise in the movie Apollo 13).

“I was blown away by how humble, personable and passionate he is about education,” she remembers.

When she’s not flying planes or talking shop with astronauts, Popish is active in her local museum educator’s group. She’s currently helping to plan pieces of the upcoming American Alliance of Museums conference in Seattle.

Trystan Popish (left) and  Carol Mohling (right) at the 2014 NSTA evening award ceremony. Popish received the Wendell G. Mohling Outstanding Aerospace Award, named for Mrs. Mohling's late husband.

Trystan Popish (left) and Carol Mohling (right) at the 2014 NSTA evening award ceremony. Popish received the Wendell G. Mohling Outstanding Aerospace Award, named for Mrs. Mohling’s late husband. (Photo: Matt Griffis)

Popish’s passion for her work began during her senior year of college, when, after some soul-searching, she realized she wanted to work in a museum, but curating wasn’t the right fit. Instead, she wanted to talk with people about what they saw and learned. Shortly thereafter, she was on her way to GW’s museum education master’s program.

“On the first day of class, I rejoiced in finding so many like-minded people in the program,” she says. “The program helped me stretch and mold my abilities and confidence, and professors like Carol Stapp and Lotte Lent really pushed us to stretch ourselves.”

Popish’s recent award, which she officially received in Boston, MA during NSTA’s national conference in early April, is only one more indication that she chose wisely. But Popish is still surprised by the honor, explaining that she continues to be inspired by the educators around her and is “humbled to be among those recognized.”

“Ever since that first day at GW,” adds Popish, “I’ve felt so at home in my skin doing this kind of work, and I’m looking forward to more of it in the future.”

There’s one other thing that Popish is looking forward—her wedding in June.

“When my colleague nominated me for the Mohling Award, I jokingly said that if I was selected, my fiancé and I would finally be able to afford our wedding,” she explains. “It turned out to be true!”

–Melissa Nyman

Thanks for sharing your story, Trystan! If you’re an alum with news to share, e-mail: cable@gwu.edu, and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

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