UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As a child, Claire Cleveland was enamored with Carl Sagan, the scientist who hosted the popular education television show "Cosmos: A Personal Voyage."
"He's kind of a hero to me," said Cleveland, a geosciences doctoral student at Penn State. "Being able to reduce science down to its simplest terms is an elegant art form. It's something to aspire to, and it means that you truly understand what you're trying to describe."
Now, with support from a recently awarded National Science Foundation (NSF) Fellowship, Cleveland will try to replicate some of Sagan's communication artistry. She plans to leverage the support from her fellowship to create more science-based outreach opportunities geared toward the general public.
Sagan wasn't the only source of scientific inspiration for Cleveland. She recalls spending many days with her father, an electrical engineer, "exploring the natural mysteries of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge" in New Jersey.
"He explained to me how little bubbles formed under mats of algae and how the swamp was transitioning into a forest. The natural wonder and curiosity this instilled in me have served me well ever since," she said.
Cleveland attended Smith College in the early '90s, where she received a bachelor's degree in chemistry. After college, she worked in a variety of jobs, thriving on "the exploration required to articulate a challenge and then working with multiple departments to resolve the challenge," she said. In 2007, she had worked her way up to become an assistant general manager of a resort in Brian Head, Utah.
After garnering two decades of experience in business and management, however, Cleveland realized she wasn't completely satisfied with her career path. While taking regular hiking trips in the backcountry of Utah, Cleveland was filled with wonder and wanted to know more about the natural world she saw around her. Therefore, in 2011, she decided to go back to school for another bachelor's degree. She double majored in geology and biology at Southern Utah University.