Bill Nye's Rising Star Wants to Talk to Science Teachers

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Whitney Pratz (Partnerships Manager at the Planetary Society) had no idea she was applying for a job with America’s science superhero a few years ago when she applied for a nonprofit job on craigslist. She was just trying to learn something new and ended up with her dream job. I sat down with her for a Q&A in Nashville today to find out what it’s like to work with Bill Nye, if she has any advice for kids who want to go into STEM fields, and whether or not Nye actually had anything to do with her brilliant, nebula-inspired purple hair.

How did you get your job with Bill Nye? Was that a bucket list thing?

It’s definitely a dream job, but I was halfway through the application process with The Planetary Society before I found out Bill was the CEO, so that was really the cherry on top. I was working as an executive assistant and wanted to do something new and was casually looking on craigslist for a nonprofit job.

Do you have a science background? Is that why you got the job?

No. In fact, I have an MFA and thought this would be a great opportunity to grow. In college I took the bare minimum science requirement and I really regret it—I loved the classes, but it just didn’t dawn on me that I could or should take more. Of course, there are scientists working at the Planetary Society, but there are also others like me. The Planetary Society’s mission is empowering the world’s citizens to advance space science and exploration, and so my background has helped tremendously as I communicate our work. I’m able to break it down for the lay person. To me, the point of science is teaching you to ask the right questions. And I had to ask a lot of questions when I started—I had to learn a lot of acronyms, for instance.

You have amazing hair. Were you inspired by your fine arts background, or did Bill help?

No, Bill wishes he could help me pick my hair. He’s modeling some new office colors on my hair color.

Beyond remodeling, what is the Planetary Society up to these days?

We are building a STEAM team of teachers, with the goal of getting science taught in every classroom. We find, especially, that elementary science education is severely lacking. At NSTA’s National Conference this week, we will be talking to as many teachers as possible, asking them what it would take to teach space science, even for 30 minutes a week. Bill will be giving The Planetary Society Lecture “If Dinosaurs Had a Space Program” on Wednesday night in the Grand Ballroom. We’ll start the conversation there, and we’ll be using the hashtag #STEAMteam so people can follow along and ask questions. You can follow us on Twitter @exploreplanets.

On a personal note, I hear you’re a way better dancer than Bill. Why do you think he ended up on Dancing with the Stars instead of you?

Hard to say, but I actually took a class in Nashville last night. I’m getting even better, should they come calling…

What do you want kids to know about learning science?

Don’t be afraid of it. Find something that makes you excited to learn and follow it!

How can teachers get involved if they aren’t at our conference?

Check out our website (, join the Planetary Society, and stay tuned for the launch of the STEAM team. We’ll be at booth 1012 in the exhibit hall in Nashville, talking to teachers and giving away Asteroid Stress Balls (which are out of this world, I have to say)!

Will Bill be there?

He LOVES the exhibit hall at NSTA conferences. Last year you would have been most likely to find him in that giant inflatable planetarium. So, you may see him, but I’ll definitely be there. You can’t miss me. I’ll be right next to that Weather Dog.

You mean Schmitty? Who do you think is the more popular celebrity at this conference? Bill or that little dog?

No question, it’s the weather dog, and Bill doesn’t mind being upstaged by him. I sometimes sneak out of my booth just to pet him.

Asteroid Stress BallEditor’s Note: If the fate of the planet(ary society) rests in the hands of Whitney Pratz, I’d say the kids will be all right!

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

Future NSTA Conferences

2016 National Conference

2016 STEM Forum & Expo

2016 Area Conferences

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