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Astronaut, Public Policy Advocate Kathryn Sullivan Receives Ohio State Honorary Degree

News Type College News

Kathryn Sullivan, NASA astronaut and former president of COSI, received an honorary Doctor of Public Affairs at Ohio State’s autumn commencement. 

Sullivan, who was the first executive director of Ohio State’s Battelle Center for Science, Engineering and Public Policy, also is a geologist and oceanographer with a diverse background in STEM and policy. She was the first American woman to walk in space as well as the first woman to dive to the Challenger Deep (the deepest part of Earth’s oceans). She has also served as the administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and currently serves on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. 

“In addition to her famous accomplishments as an astronaut and an oceanographer, Kathy Sullivan is an outstanding public servant,” said Glenn College Professor Caroline Wagner, who succeeded Sullivan as Battelle Center executive director and served from 2011 to 2016. “As director of NOAA, Kathy was noted for her leadership of infusing policy process with scientific rigor; for enhancing agency outreach to industry and academia and to the public (including developing an award-winning website); and for coordinating policy actions across many agencies of government. She was and remains a tireless advocate for tracking and monitoring changes to the climate and the oceans, ensuring effective stewardship of natural resources.” 

In the days prior to commencement, Sullivan visited with more than 50 students at the Battelle Center and shared the twists and turns of her career, from studying geology to becoming an astronaut to promoting policy that is informed by and affects the STEM community. When describing how her career path developed, she told students that it’s been ever changing.  

“I had no fear of veering from the straight path,” Sullivan said. 

Throughout all her distinguished endeavors — including 18 years of service in the U.S. Naval Reserve — she has expanded knowledge, science and opportunity for others while being an indefatigable advocate for effective stewardship of natural resources. She is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, American Academy of Arts and Sciences and National Academy of Public Administration. 

One student asked how she navigated being the first woman in her professional spaces.  

“You owe it to that position and anyone who follows that no one gets to disrespect the position,” Sullivan responded. “As a woman coming into the [space] program, the door was ajar. And we went through it. Our job was to make sure it stayed wide open for the women after us.” 

Sullivan also answered questions on topics including her experience in government and her thoughts on what it would mean for NOAA to be more prominent in the American psyche.  

After the event, students lined up to take pictures with her and have a chance to talk with her one-on-one, giving them a great opportunity to learn from a pioneer in her field and gain an even deeper understanding of how STEM fields interact with policy.