West Virginia native Emily Calandrelli goes by the name “The Space Gal” online. She has a passion for space exploration and getting more young people, especially girls, into Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, also known as STEM. She recently spoke in Charleston as part of the Higher Education Policy Commission’s Chancellor’s STEM Speaker Series. It was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
This career was never in her plan. Calandrelli said she was going to be an engineer and has degrees from West Virginia University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
“West Virginia University was the best place I could have ended up at. Everyone there was so welcoming and so supportive and so encouraging of me as a woman in STEM that I could not have done it without their help," she said.
Calandrelli did well at WVU, earning a 4.0 GPA and she received national scholarships that allowed her to complete a masters program at MIT. Then, she got a call she wasn't expecting.
"I got the call to be a TV show host. It was a very serendipitous moment for me," she said. "I wasn’t applying for that, I wasn’t looking for that but they were looking for someone with a background in aerospace engineering and they found me because West Virginia University did a really wonderful job of promoting me and my work so when they went searching for a space gal online, they found me."
Calandrelli is the executive producer and Emmy-nominated host of FOX’s Xploration Outer Space. She is also a chief correspondent on Netflix’s Bill Nye Saves The World and writer and host of YouTube’s Spotlight Space, a series from Lockheed Martin.
She said working on those shows has given her opportunities most never get the chance to experience, including weightlessness.
“I think the coolest thing that I’ve ever done in my life as The Space Gal has been riding on the vomit comet which is this plane that is quite literally this 8,000 foot rollercoaster in the sky," Calandrelli said. The ride lasts for an hour and a half of constantly climbing and descending. It has the name vomit comet for a reason.
"It’s actually how they shot movies like Apollo 13 where the astronauts are floating," she added. "To this day that’s like the coolest experience I’ve ever had."
Calandrelli also her position to encourage young people, especially girls, to explore the STEM fields through a series of children’s books for kids ages 6-10 called the Ada Lace Adventure Book Series.
"Ada is this third grader who loves science and technology and goes on adventures with tech and gadgets that she builds herself," she said. "For the boys and girls who read my books, the message is, it is fun to be curious. It is fun to learn about science and technology. You don’t have to be perfect at it. You can fail and try again and try again until you get it right."
Calandrelli said it was important for her that the main character, Ada, is from West Virginia.
"Basically, I wanted to create a book that has a female as the lead character who loves STEM, and not just a girl, but a West Virginia girl, leading these adventures,” she said.
Calandrelli sees a shortage of women in the STEM fields, but she sees reason to be hopeful it won’t always be that way.
“When I was in college, in a 50-person class, I would be one of two, maybe three girls," she said. "Seeing people like Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel and all of these wonderful, strong female character on our screen are certainly changing the game. They are adding this representation that women have never really seen before and it makes me hopeful for the future."