Edinboro Alumni Issue: Sian Proctor

Friday, October 13th, 2017 at 9:12 PM
Edinboro Alumni Issue: Sian Proctor by Dakota Palmer
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Dr. Sian Proctor has always considered herself an explorer, and the geosciences professor at South Mountain Community College in Arizona knew at an early age she would have a career as a scientist.

Proctor was born on Guam to a scientific family, her father a contractor for NASA during the Apollo missions. They left Guam when she was only two months old, right after Apollo 13.

“I grew up with Neil Armstrong’s autograph to my father on his office wall and all of these other really great NASA certificates for space exploration,” she said. “My father was a very big advocate of science, becoming a scientist and going to school and getting degrees.”

Proctor came to Edinboro knowing she wanted to be a scientist, but not knowing what branch she wanted to specialize in. 

“I call myself a GeoExplorer, and I think Edinboro really set me up for that because I do stuff in astronomy, I do stuff in oceanography, I do stuff in geology, and I just had a really well-rounded scientific base for that,” she said.

When asked if she had a mentor at Edinboro, she responded: “I never really had a mentor, but my ‘Intro to Chemistry’ professor was one of the few female professors that I had. I remember really enjoying my first chemistry class with her; she really made it interesting for me and even to this day, I realize the importance of chemistry.”

In 2009, Proctor was one of the 47 finalists for the NASA Astronaut Selection process. Although she was not chosen, this led to other opportunities for her, such as in 2013, when she was selected as the education outreach officer for the Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation program (HI-SEAS). Proctor lived in a Mars simulation for four months with five other people, researching food strategies for a long duration space flight.

“I’m the type of person who would post pictures of food when Facebook first came out, and a friend of mine knew the two things I love — food and space — so she sent me the call for the HI-SEAS project,” she said. “I applied and the next thing I know, I’m a finalist for the project.” 

Proctor’s large undertaking during the HI-SEAS program was creating the “Meals for Mars” YouTube series. She asked people via social media to send recipe submissions that only used the food available in the HI-SEAS habitat pantry. She received about 75 submissions, and she chose 25 of the recipes that fit into the five food categories she selected: breakfast, soups and stews, main dishes, side dishes, and snacks and dessert. 

Some of the dishes she cooked were no-crust quiche muffins, Moroccan beef tangine, spam-fried rice, lemon dill pasta salad and dark matter cake. 

She hopes to be coming out with a “Meals for Mars” cookbook which would include some of the recipes she used, in addition to photographs and personal stories about the HI-SEAS experience.  

“The fun thing about space exploration is that it’s all about survival,” she said. “Food is something that everyone can relate with because it’s not only required to survive, but there’s also so much comradery, enjoyment, [and] all of those things that are associated with food and food preparation. So it’s really a great thing.”

In addition to the Meals for Mars series, Proctor was chosen as a photographer for Discover Magazine for the project. One of her HI-SEAS colleagues, Kate Greene, had a writing contract with the publication and needed a photographer to capture moments from the Mars simulation. 

“In a space suit, I went out many times at night by myself trying to set up my digital camera and to shoot the night sky and to get a really great photo of the Hab at night,” said Proctor. 

“In the end, I finally did and that [experience] led me into the field of astrophotography.”

Greene also helped Proctor land a spot on the television show “Genius,” featuring Stephen Hawking. Although she didn’t fit the posted age requirement and was hesitant about applying, she went through a few interviews and eventually received confirmation she would be on the program. 

Proctor used this scenario to talk connection. “The people you surround yourself with make a huge impact in your life,” she explained. “Because of the HI-SEAS project and meeting Kate...she was the one who sent me the information about Stephen Hawking.”

This past summer, Proctor received an email from the people who worked on “Genius” asking her to come back to England to film a new science series called “Strange Evidence,” which is set to premiere on the Science Channel on Tuesday, Oct. 17 at 10 p.m.

“I didn’t have to audition. I just had to say yes or no,” she said. “It was a really nice email to get.”

Most recently, Proctor spent two weeks on the Oscar Dyson ship as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Teacher at Sea program. In July, she studied pollock in the Gulf of Alaska. 

In the NOAA program, there are three tracks of study: fisheries, hydrologic and oceanographic. The fisheries section involves a lot of biology, which isn’t Proctor’s favorite science subject. She wanted to explore either the hydrologic or oceanographic choices.

 “I really struggled with that one because it was really out of my comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to push yourself out of your comfort zone [though] because that’s really how you grow and learn,” she said.

While she was at sea, she kept a blog detailing her journey. Additionally, she learned how to “slice and dice Pollock,” which was something she never thought she would do.

She continued: “A lot of times we have a lot of misconceptions about what those experiences will be like when it’s out of our comfort zone. Then when we get into that experience, we confront all of these misconceptions and learn that the reality is far different.”

Proctor said her future goals include trying to become a promoter of women and, in particular, women of color in STEM fields.

“I think that as a black female, getting out and being a modern day explorer, pushing your limits, going to places that minority female scientists don’t often see, like the polar region and living in extreme environments — and learning how to not only survive, but thrive in extreme environments — is incredibly empowering for females and minority females in particular,” she said.

“A lot of people will talk themselves out of opportunities because they don’t think that they’re qualified or that they’ll never pick them,” she said. “It’s really important, especially for students that are at the university level and even high school to realize that they have to go out and make opportunities for themselves and apply for projects...and when they’re not selected, have the resilience to get back up and apply again.”

Dakota Palmer is the news editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at eupnews.spectator@gmail.com.

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