Trailblazer of the Week

Martha House

10 July 2020

School may be out for summer, but Martha House is still working to prepare her students to be the next generation of scientists and engineers. She is the Dean of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Division at Pasadena City College (PCC) and a co-investigator on the Lunar Trailblazer mission, leading a student collaboration partnership with Caltech.

House is herself a scientist, and knows how important it is for students to gain hands-on experience. She studied at the University of Michigan and MIT, and has also taught at Caltech and Saint Louis University.

“I am a geologist by training,” says House. “I first came to California to work as a Postdoctoral Fellow in Caltech’s Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences (GPS), after which I started my work at PCC as a geology instructor, and then moved on to become a Dean. I love my work as Dean, but I also loved my work as a geology instructor.”

It comes as no surprise then that one of her favorite activities includes hiking.

“My favorite place to visit is the Owens Valley and Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains,” House says. It was on the other side of this range though, west of the Sierras, that House previously conducted some of her geologic research, specifically studying transpressional deformation along the San Andreas fault. She has also published several articles on low temperature geochronology and the patterns of rock uplift along this infamous fault zone. Her background both in the field and classroom helped her promote geoscience opportunities for PCC students at Caltech.

“My long-time relationship with Caltech’s GPS led to a partnership with Trailblazer’s PI Bethany Ehlmann that has afforded a number of PCC students an opportunity to work with Trailblazer scientists,” House explains.

House established the very first internship collaboration between PCC and Caltech’s GPS last year. Through her leadership, the PCC internship program was successfully launched during the Fall 2019 semester, with students assigned to several Trailblazer projects ranging from GIS mapping to web development to science communication and graphic design. In addition to receiving college credit, students had the chance to participate directly with Trailblazer scientists and see their contributions make an impact on an ongoing NASA mission.

“I’m most excited about the interactions between Caltech and other mission partners, and the opportunities that have developed for my Pasadena City College students,” she says.

Ensuring the student population has all opportunities made available to them is House’s prime focus. As Dean, House works with over 150 faculty members and staff to serve more than 6000 students in a standard semester.

“My first priority is to see that faculty have the best support they can in helping our students meet their individual academic and professional goals,” says House. “On a daily basis, I might find myself meeting with students or faculty, working on budgets, or reviewing instructional spaces on campus. Sometimes I meet with colleagues at other campuses to identify opportunities for students.”

Helping people accomplish their goals, whether it’s faculty or students, is the most fulfilling and important part of House’s position. She notes that it is especially rewarding to engage with a diverse number of people across PCC’s departments and supporting facilities.

“I love it when I’m able to help an instructor secure the resources they need to improve their class, or when I can help a student navigate the college environment,” explains House. “My position is challenging because it requires me to work with a broad range of people in different roles, such as students, faculty, administrators, and staff, and I have to remember that not everyone has the same perspective on a problem as everyone else.”

Looking ahead, PCC interns will continue to contribute to the Trailblazer mission. For House, this is the first space mission she has personally collaborated on, and it’s already made a lasting impression.

“It’s pretty outta-sight! I would have never guessed this would be in my future.”

Martha House is the Dean of Natural Sciences and Engineering at Pasadena City College and Trailblazer of the Week!

Trailblazer of the Week is an ongoing series showcasing the diversity of experience and expertise that supports the collective determination of the Lunar Trailblazer mission.

By Emily Felder
Emily Felder is a Pasadena City College student and Caltech intern working on science communication for the Lunar Trailblazer mission.