Go outside, look at the massive world above and imagine floating among the dazzling stars, looking down at planet Earth. Astronaut Wendy Lawrence has spent 51 days doing just that.

From 7-9 p.m. Monday, Lawrence will speak in Emens Auditorium about her mission to answer some of humanity’s greatest questions while in space. 

“All of us, if we stop for a moment, think about starry wonders and think about what’s out there beyond us … there are these enormous questions that humans have about, ‘Are we alone, why are we here, what’s the beginning, what’s the end?’” said Susan Johnson, the associate dean of the college of science and humanities. “Astronauts really represent those questions.” 

Astronaut Wendy Lawrence is speaking as part of a four-part lecture series at Emens Auditorium, which is a joint project between Teachers College and the College of Sciences and Humanities. 

The series also offers workshops for teachers throughout Indiana to meet with Ball State faculty and discuss the information learned through speaker topics. Teachers can participate in these workshops by contacting Sheryl Stump at sstump@bsu.edu

The College of Science and Humanities is also working toward making this lecture series universally accessible through ASL interpretation, on-screen presentation and available in different quiet rooms.

If you can't make it to Emens Auditorium for Lawrence's speech, Ball State will be live streaming from the event. 

Lawrence, like many, had a childhood dream of becoming an astronaut, and because she was determined to see space, she continuously told herself she would get there through hard work and persistence.   

She began studying engineering at the U.S. Naval Academy and then advanced to flight training, where she learned how to fly helicopters and eventually applied to be an astronaut for NASA.

“It’s pretty exciting when NASA calls you up one day and asks what I think is a profoundly silly question, which is, ‘Are you still interested in becoming an astronaut? Because if you are, we’d love to have you,’” Lawrence said. 

Throughout her life she has followed the “simple, yet powerful” advice her father gave her by observing what other astronauts did before and applying those lessons to her own experience. Twenty-five years later, Lawrence achieved her dream.

Lawrence has traveled on four space shuttle flights, the first of which provided evidence in support of the Big Bang Theory. 

She has also flown six different types of helicopters as a U.S. Navy helicopter pilot, coached a women’s naval crew at the U.S. Naval Academy, collaborated with Russians on the Russian Space Station and conducted research at the International Space Station. 

Surrounded mostly by men, Lawrence has provided an example for other women in her field. She understood she was in the minority, but did not let that get in her way.

“I tried to be a really good pilot, a really good teammate, help others with their job and always do my job to the best of my ability,” Lawrence said. “I am very appreciative of the fact that those who were in charge of me recognized that and were willing to stick their necks out and give me the same opportunities that were given to my male colleagues.”

During her presentation, Lawrence will speak about her 25-year journey and the lessons she learned along the way. She also plans to talk about the science behind the International Space Station and the Earth Observation Program and how scientists use the information received from them to monitor the Earth.

Lawrence’s presentation, “Dare to Dream,” will also discuss the importance of having a support system. 

“I want to tell young people to dream your dream — you owe it to yourself,” Lawrence said. “But you have to understand it’s going to be a long process. Don’t listen to the people who tell you you have to do it all on your own … there is nothing wrong with asking for help. In society we want to view that as a sign of weakness — I want to dispel that. To me, it's a sign of strength.” 

The astronaut hopes to inspire students by providing the classic example of someone who has “been there, done that.” 

“I like to quote Sally Ride, who said, ‘You can’t be what you can't see,’” Lawrence said. “Say you’re interested in being an astronaut or a doctor or surgeon and you get to meet someone who’s done that.  What’s really powerful is when you realize, ‘Hey, that person looks like me and they’re doing that.’ You can identify with them, so if they’re doing that and they look like you, subconsciously, you’re making the connection that, ‘Oh, I can do this too.’” 

Keri Rodgers, a doctoral teaching fellow at Ball State, recognized Lawrence as someone who could inspire young people, especially girls.

“Middle school girls often times start veering away from STEM careers, to see this example of this particular female astronaut who in many ways is a super star,” Rodgers said. “She is a pioneer. She represents not only what these girls can accomplish in their lifetime, but what we all can accomplish.” 

Lawrence’s respect for Ball State’s summer STEM camp for middle school girls is what led her to want to speak at Ball State. Lawrence has been involved in similar initiatives and said she is looking forward to meeting the people who made the program possible as well as the girls who participated. 

“The most important thing you can do if you’re a person who’s been there and done that, is to take the time to pass down the lessons you learned,” Lawrence said.

Contact Melissa Kraman with comments at mmkraman@bsu.edu or on Twitter @missy_kraman.