Heads up, Mobile. The polymaths lurk among us.
Some are like Dr. M. Allam Baaheth, a local theoretical chemist who has also given classical trumpet recitals with University of South Alabama fine arts faculty. Or Dr. Doug Haywick, an awarded geology professor who answers his muse with pottery and ceramics.
New generations emerge, too. Midtown’s Alabama School of Math and Sciences (ASMS) has been churning them out for nearly 30 years now.
Jamie Ellis is in that general arc of lineage. Though she went to Mary G. Montgomery rather than ASMS, the Semmes native’s background is littered with creativity, with dance classes and clarinet practice and scientific interests, too.
“When I was younger I couldn’t get enough of Discovery Channel medical shows and enrolled at USA as a biomedical science major, but after my second year, I realized it wasn’t for me,” Ellis said.
She re-evaluated options. A path emerged in the first geology class she ever took.
“We were discussing the processes of volcanoes and this utterly pure happiness hit me that day. Now it feels like home,” Ellis said.
Rather than keeping her eyes in the soil, Ellis has turned them skyward with an aim to specialize in planetary geology. That same vision led her to a new honor not seen in Mobile for a while.
“Shortly after returning from field camp out west, I was browsing through Facebook one evening and came across the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Solar System Ambassador page, with just a few days before their application deadline. The mission statement hooked me to try to see if I would be accepted,” Ellis said.
According to nasa.gov, the program’s purpose is to gin up enthusiasm among local populations for space exploration and knowledgeable pursuits. Though there are 750 ambassadors in 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam for 2017, Ellis is the first in Mobile in seven years.
Among Alabama cities, it’s no surprise Huntsville leads in the number of resident SSAs with five and metro Birmingham has only two. Pensacola has none and New Orleans boasts just three.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, sponsors the Solar System Ambassadors Program. JPL is an operating division of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and a lead research and development center for NASA.
Whether talking about space telescopes at a college library or in online discussions of missions to Jupiter, Ellis’ passion has been her guide. She has even hosted panel discussion for science enthusiasts at comic conventions, something she is slated to repeat at Mobicon on Memorial Day weekend.
Enthusiasm prompted Ellis to volunteer as a facilitator for the upcoming March for Science, set for April 22 in downtown Mobile. Set to coincide with similar events on six continents, its crux — a belief in science as humanity’s most powerful tool — is dear to Ellis’ heart.
The budding astrogeologist isn’t alone. Ellis claimed the March for Science Facebook page has 600-plus followers to date.
“The response has been beyond anything I could have imagined, so many walks of life have joined the group to help volunteer and make this happen,” Ellis said.
March developers say reaction has been positive among laymen and professionals alike.
“That includes natural sciences, biomedical sciences and social sciences. Almost everyone we’ve mentioned it to already knew about the march and many said they are planning to march, either here or in D.C.,” co-coordinator Angela Jordan said.
According to Ellis, the event convenes in downtown Mobile around 9:30 a.m. The assembled crowd will walk an as-yet-unreleased but relatively short route before settling in Bienville Square for a presentation with guest speakers.
“We are assembling a list of scientists and science advocates who can highlight some of the outstanding work being done in our region, as well as touch on some of the key issues,” Jordan said.
Both Ellis and Jordan said further details will be available on the group’s Facebook page and Twitter feed. Ellis also stressed a continuing effort to build STEM awareness in area educational curriculum after the event’s official date.
As for Ellis’ long-ago creative interests, they aren’t entirely gone. Release comes in new ways.
“I guess I kind of use that when I’m crafting 3-D models of geological structures, something I’m currently in the early stages of developing,” Ellis said.