Summer Ash is a relative newcomer to Socorro. Currently working at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory as the senior STEAM education specialist, Ash welcomed El Defensor Chieftain at their top level patio area to find out more about her.
Question: How long have you been with NRAO?
Answer: It will be three months next week.
Q: What is your typical work week like so far?
A: I’m not sure it’s a standard week as I’m still getting settled in here. Right now we’re getting ready for an open house with the Very Large Array, which was the main thing that brought me here. I like to joke that I already had 27 friends here because there’s 27 antennas.
Q: Where are you from originally?
A: I was born in Massachusetts, spent a little time in upstate New York before eventually moving to the Washington D.C. area in Virginia.
Q: What brought you from the east coast all the way to Socorro?
A: That is a very long story. But I found that as I was going to school I always enjoyed talking about science. Helping people understand and became excited about science, astronomy in particular, was always a big deal for me. When I moved into education public outreach back in New York at Columbia University it really felt like the right place for me to help share my love of space. I studied radio astronomy in graduate school which is what in a way brought me here. At this point in my life coming here felt like the right decision. I’m perfectly content with a much more controlled pace of life that Socorro offers. In a way this is a second phase in life to me.
Q: Of all places, why here?
A: It was a way for me to combine all of my different passions in one location. When it comes to astronomy a lot of people think that it’s just the pretty sky we see every night and there is so much more to it. In particular with radio it is a different way to look at the sky. Radio is not the prototypical painters view of what is out there. The observatory allows people to look at things from multiple points of view. You never want to rely on just one source of news of course. We have to look at the grand spectrum of the universe in multiple ways.
Q: Were you always drawn to astronomy?
A: Space was always a thing. I remember as a kid going outside and looking up at the moon. It grew from there. One of my first words at two years old was moon. It’s unexplainable.
Q: Did your parents push you towards this field.
A: No. I was raised by a single mother, Adrienne Ash. She was a PhD German Scholar but gave up education once I came along. That is when she went into the publishing field.
Q: Were you always looking to be part of the education field?
A: I started with astrophysics studies before getting involved with teaching. In a way teaching resonated with me and I thought that I was good at it. I like the fact that I get to discuss all the different aspects of astronomy and science in general as opposed to a research career where you’ll have a very narrow slice to focus on. It’s a jack of all trades and master of none which I love.
Q: What do you personally get out of being an educator?
A: There’s a natural attraction for everyone to look up at the sky and want to know more about it. I like that you don’t have to be a genius to study space. Math-phobia is something I try to down play for kids. Ultimately I like the idea of sparking imagination in students.
Q: Do you regret going with the path of educator instead of researcher?
A: Not at all. I would not have enjoyed that as much as what I’ve done. The focus when you are a researcher is so limiting and I like learning all of the things that I can. Less narrow and a broader look.
Q: A lot of talk politically has been about focusing on maintaining our planet instead of focus on the cosmos. What are your thoughts on that?
A: It’s not an either or to me. In particular with climate change. We can understand more about our planet by studying other planets in the solar system and their history. We can’t go back in time but we can observe how other planets have evolved.
Q: A few random questions. What is your favorite movie?
A: One of my favorites is “Big Night”. Stanley Tucci and Tony Shaloub play these two Italian brothers starting a restaurant. It’s just beautifully acted and brings me a lot of joy.
Q: What is your favorite book?
A: “East of Eden”. I’ve always loved (John) Steinbeck’s writing. I recently just re-read it because I had the chance to visit the Steinbeck museum in Carmel, California. It’s beautifully written and also has the history of the place that the story is about.
Q: What is your favorite type of music?
A: I like variety. But if we’re talking stranded on a desert island music I would have to say Prince. I love the R&B mixed with how ridiculously creative his work is. He is so talented and one of my biggest regrets is never getting to see him preform live.
Q: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
A: I would bounce around. Spend some time in the big cities like New York or L.A. but also the smaller towns like here in Socorro. I’ve never been much for settling down in one spot. If I was forced to choose one place it would be New York because there is so much to do. Something about that city has always pulled me there.
Q: Is there something in life that you regret most?
A: Managing my money better. I’ve had these false starts and stops and I wish I had been more educated on how to set myself up for the future.
Q: If there was something you could change about Socorro County, what would it be?
A: Definitely funding for education. I haven’t had the chance to fully look into it but I know that New Mexico schools are ranked very low nationally. So many problems in this world revolve around those that do not have access to quality education which is something that has to be addressed.
Summer has also completed multiple scientific articles and videos in her career, which can be viewed on her website summerash.com. The opening statement reads “I’ve been both a rocket scientist and a radio astronomer, and now I'm harnessing my powers for science communication to share my love of the Universe.”