Children’s book author, physicist to speak at STEM-mania Saturday

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Writer-scientist’s books have traveled in space; event will include interactive reading, information on math and science.

By V. G. Garlisi

On the morning of Jan. 9, 2014, five books were loaded in the cargo bay of a fully functioning space shuttle. The books were launched to the International Space Station and read by astronauts as part of NASA’s Story Time in Space program.


Courtesy Photo

The first set of books was the series “Science Adventures with Max the Dog” by astrophysicist Jeffrey Bennett.

“I got a call from Alvin Drew, an astronaut, who came up with the idea to read books from space,” Bennett said in a telephone interview. “And somehow they decided the books they wanted to read first were mine. Seriously, when I got the phone call, I thought someone was playing a joke on me.”

Bennett will be STEM-mania’s featured speaker 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sept. 19 at Scobee Education Center. His talk will include an interactive reading of a book in his series.

“As I read one of my books — for example, ‘Max goes to the Moon’ — I explain to the children the various sciences that are involved in making that scene possible,” he said.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biophysics from the University of California at San Diego in 1981, Bennett worked as an elementary teaching aide for Sunset View Elementary in San Diego. He later became the sole proprietor of a private summer school for children with a passion for space.

Bennett then moved to Boulder, Colo., to earn his master’s in 1985 and Ph.D. in 1987 in astrophysical, planetary and atmospheric sciences from the University of Colorado. Bennett remained there to teach and in 1989 became director of the program for quantitative reasoning and mathematical skills.

He got his start writing college-level textbooks for publishing companies in 1995 but transitioned into children’s literature because of his love for teaching.

“I got into children’s book writing a little more then 10 years ago,” Bennett said. “I used to teach elementary school, and I’ve always wanted to do books for kids, but the path I took led me to do textbooks first and kids’ books second.”

Bennett started writing “Max Goes to the Moon” in the early 2000s. It was published in 2003. Bennett said he was inspired to write all levels of literature because he wanted to educate anyone willing to learn about humanity’s place in the cosmos.

Chaye Pena, senior coordinator for student and academic success and coordinator of STEM-mania, said events like Bennett’s lecture are a vital part of educational programs at this college because they teach students about the benefits of a strong foundation in mathematics and science.

“Having these events and programs like STEM-mania in our community is essential,” Pena said. “It brings about awareness to kids so they can understand the countless opportunities available to them.”

Pena said Bennett will speak at this college through a joint partnership with UTSA that celebrates the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Bennett, whose new book “I, Humanity” will hit shelves in early November, said he understands the importance of STEM education, and he advocates programs like STEM-mania and STEM Week.

“Math and science is integral to everything in modern society, so it’s important for everybody to have some understanding of it, and the earlier one starts, the better,” Bennett said.


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