Pushing Beyond The Boundaries Of Earth -Letting All Students Come Together To Compete And Learn About Space

Students at the Cities In Space competition, 2017. Photo by Steve Rogers Photography
“It’s amazing to watch students collaborate. Teams from differing states seek each other out to connect even before the event, to practice and compare. By having a progressive education competition, children come in to compete, support, and learn from each other.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Holly Melear, Director and Founder of STEAMSPACE Education Outreach. Through STEAMSPACE, Holly has connected with over 1,600 students in under three years, teaching them about space. She is the creator of the Cities in Space Students Competition, bringing diverse students together to learn about off-world settlement and to meet and interact with space industry leaders. Holly is creating a movement of youth, encouraging them to reach for the stars.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I was a teacher for 20 years and specialized in Visual Art and 3D printing. I come from a family of artists, mathematicians, and scientist so I always saw the beauty of incorporating the arts and science. And I have always had a passion for space!

Cities In Space competition, 2017 — Photo by Steve Rogers Photography

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?

Through becoming friends with Janet Ivy, Founder and CEO of Janet’s Planet, I was invited with her to speak at a large emerging technology conference in India. We were on route to India, but when we the plane was about to land, they wouldn’t let us because of a flood that happened within the country. We ended up being diverted to a nearby city, unable to attend the conference. Rather than giving up, we arranged to have meetings in the nearby city at a hotel which created a place for us to have more intimate conversations about space. We were able to turn what could have been a huge negative for us into something that allowed us to really connect. And to add to that, I gained a life-long friend!

Videography by Juese Cutler

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

About three years ago I had the opportunity to create the Cities in Space competition, which was to be held alongside the New Worlds competition. We were hoping to get 75 kids from the Texas area to compete. Having a passion for creating events for many years, I didn’t want it to simply be a competition. So, we decided our goal was to have direct engagement to purse knowledge and engagement in space and in the off-world settlement. We wanted kids to think about how they could benefit our world and beyond.

Throughout my career in education, I became a very devoted to education surrounding Project Based Learning (PBL) and Social Emotional Learning (SEL). With Cities in Space, I saw an opportunity to give children the opportunity to explore space education and be a pipeline for the space and technology industry. I believe it’s important to also give them the skills to be compassionate, collaborative leaders. When we are talking about exploring space settlement, academies can get you far, but we need empathy, accountability, and collaboration to get all the way.

What started as a small competition idea ended up brining industry leaders, to an interactive event to engage with kids. Before we knew it, our small goal of 75 kids had actually reached fire code and we were turning kids away because we had reached our room’s 500-person capacity.

Since then, Cities in Space has continued to grow each of our 3 years, reaching fire code capacity each year, growing from state based to national based. We were thrilled to even have Circle of Nations from North Dakota send kids to compete. Its been thrilling to see the amount of diversity in these 4th through 12th grade students coming from all walks of life and having a ratio of 60% girls interested in this STEAM event competition.

It’s amazing to watch students collaborate. Teams from differing states seek each other out to connect even before the event, to practice and compare. By having a progressive education competition, children come in to compete, support, and learn from each other. This coming year we plan to go global to reach as many children as possible, offering opportunities to children across the planet.

We are also creating a pipeline for the future workforce through Cities in Space. Students get to see that they are not learning in a bubble and that they can study space in college, get jobs and be involved in corporations that are focused on space, space design, and space settlement. This year companies such as Firefly Aerospace, The Heinlein Society, Space for Humanity, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and many more came to engage with the kids. The kids also got to engage with actor Cas Anvar from the Sci-Fi series The Expanse, who talked about using real space technology in the show.

Academic with SEL — we stand out because we support that we are all in this together. It’s a competition, but we bring joy to competition and allow for a variety of differing strengths.

Our next goal is to create an all school year long academy tract that has space and tech education lessons, projects, and initiatives. We want to collaborate with companies within the space industry, so children can learn and study everything from architecture to medicine and how it applies to space, all while having regular engagement with industry leaders.

STEAMSPACE Team with Cas Anvar, Actor, The Expanse — Photo by Steve Rogers Photography

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

Meeting Rick Tomlinson, Founder of New Worlds, has been terrific. He is a leader in the New Space industry. Getting to connect with him and his encouragement and use of the phrase “go build your empire” allowed me to continue to have faith in my dreams for Cities in Space and STEAMSPACE. We enjoy having Cities in Space alongside the New Worlds Conference as it has been an exciting experience and amazing adventure.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I had a student come up to me at the first Cities In Space competition who told me that she always wanted to be an astronaut, but wasn’t good at math, so she didn’t think she could ever be involved. This student learned through the competition, however, that there was a pipeline for all sorts of jobs in space. She has since decided that she wants to be an off-settlement space counselor, and at the age of 13 has a brilliant future ahead of her.

Cities In Space Competition, 2017 — Photo by Steve Rogers Photography

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my Non-Profit” and why?

1. Get ready for the roller coaster — there are lots of highs and lows. You have to really remember to roll with the ups and downs of having a non-profit.

2. Great Team Communication — defining your own individual job and knowing when to delegate while being sure not to overstep your own role.

3. Set Boundaries for Self-Care — it’s easy to work 24/7 in a nonprofit, but if you don’t take time for yourself to breathe, relax and enjoy nature then everyone suffers because you’re not at your best. Also, remember to honor the needs your team has for self-care as well.

4. Laugh a lot — create opportunities for you and your team to have joy together.

5. Persevere — You are going to reach points where you feel like you’re not making progress, so you need to have metrics that allow you to see your progress outside for your own feelings and fears. You may feel like you’re not getting anywhere, so it’s important that you have metrics to back you up.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I would love to meet Loretta Whitesides. She is an amazing author and the co-creator of Yuri’s Night. From my view, she is an amazing asset to Virgin Galactic and their culture. I think she’s an inspiring female leader who is showing the world that you can have multiple passions. She is really leading us in what the world of New Space should be.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!