Kern admits being excited about his new position because of a positive NASA experience over 20 years ago. “My first exposure to NASA was part of an international group of teachers attending a two-week training project at the Johnson Space Center. At the end I remember saying this was a great opportunity for teachers to receive training from the experts and lots of great resources for the classroom,” he said.
In college Kern admits he was a typical student, altering his direction of study several times before settling on a duel major in elementary and special education. Ultimately, he had to decide between a course in classroom design or neuropsychology. “Neuropsychology and disabilities was much more interesting and led to my interest in learning more about how to work with students with disabilities in the classroom.”
After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Northern Arizona University (NAU) Kern began his teaching career in Phoenix, Arizona. “I’ve been a special and elementary education teacher at all levels of K-12 and even taught music at one point in my career” he said. Along the way, Kern obtained a Master of Arts degree in education administration from NAU, and continued doctorial studies at the University of Colorado at Denver.
Kern spent 10 years teaching in four different countries working in international American and British sponsored schools before returning to the U.S. He worked for several more years in the emerging education school choice effort known as charter schools at the local and state levels before joining the U.S. Department of Education in 2002 as Director of the Charter Schools Program. “I became interested in the charter school programs from a civil rights and social perspective where you are addressing a critical issue and the achievement challenges for kids because of their zip code, ethnicity, and/or race,” Kern said. “I see the NASA experience as another opportunity to use my educational background to have a positive influence on student learning.”
As Deputy Director, Kern will oversee Goddard’s educational programs. “We are indeed fortunate to have Dean join the Goddard staff,” said Dr. Robert Gabrys, director of Goddard’s Office of Education. “His background in education at the school, state, and government levels provides us with a depth of education expertise that will serve both the Center and Headquarters (NASA) well.”
According to Kern, NASA’s Summer of Innovation program is definitely a part of the national conversation. “It brings to the forefront more visibility for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), which is becoming part of the mainstream conversation when talking about education reform.”
Kern believes this opportunity will allow direct influence over programs that will inspire our next generation to explore. “I believe insight is key when rolling out new programs, initiatives, or training. How will it be received at the teacher, state, and national level is key to successfully gaining classroom access. Whatever you are doing, it must support the national policy conversation in education, at all levels.”
For the avid bike rider, Kern’s new position in Maryland puts an end to the daily 20-mile bike commute from Old Town Alexandria, Virginia to the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. “On the weekends I cram to make up those miles.” In addition to traveling with wife Monica, Kern enjoys singing in the Metropolitan Chorus and bargain hunting at second-hand stores.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center