Joan Gilbert is science program coordinator for the Tucson Unified School District. Before participating in a panel on what other countries can teach us about teaching STEM, she sat down in the Zócalo green room to talk about a science fair experiment she’ll never forget, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s inspiring nerdiness, and the smell of acacia trees in the desert.
Are you good at keeping secrets? Who can vouch for you?
I’m very good at keeping secrets. My husband, for sure.
What inspires you?
The wonder of the real world and how kids—everything they look at is a question. What is this for, and what is that, and how does this work?
What’s the most memorable science fair experiment you’ve ever seen?
I saw a really cool one in the last couple years. It was about the ancient orchards that grew in this area—heirloom orchards. Kids were studying the culture of the area, the heirloom trees and how they’ve lasted for 300 years, and how to grow them. They were trying to figure out how to get heirloom seeds to grow these really unique trees and create a new orchard. That was really inspiring—from a 12-year-old.
If you could be any animal, which would you choose?
I think I’d be a bird, so I could go just about anywhere I wanted to go and see anything. And hopefully not have too many predators.
What’s the last habit you tried to kick?
I’m still trying to kick it: procrastination. It’s a never-ending challenge.
Who’s your favorite scientist of all time?
I don’t have a favorite but I’m totally inspired by Neil deGrasse Tyson, because I think he’s very contemporary yet he has so much knowledge, and he can speak to anybody about science and get us excited about it. And he’s a total nerd!
What do you eat for breakfast?
What word or phrase do you use most often?
How do you decompress?
I’m a gym rat. I like to go to the gym and work out. And I do a lot of hiking on the weekends.
What’s your favorite plant or flower?
It’s got to be a desert one of course. I really like acacia trees because they have a really wonderful smelling blossom, and they have a lot of thorns.