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Blast Off Into Space with Dr. Roberta Bondar

Photo: Students on the LEGO Robotics team the “Space Cadets” (Holy Cross Catholic Elementary School) pose with Dr. Roberta Bondar at the University of Windsor in February. Pictured from left are: Ted Aliko, Jon Aliko, Michael Dunne, Matthew Tracey, Bondar, Delaney Sloan and Felicia Rice. Photo courtesy of Dana Tonus.

Blast Off Into Space with Dr. Roberta Bondar

I finally made it to NASA this year, which made me even more excited to meet Dr. Roberta Bondar at the University of Windsor on February 28, 2019 for the Faculty of Science “Speaker Series.”

It was great seeing students there — like Aiden (last name withheld) who want to be a scientist — and are part of the NASA afterschool program at the David Suzuki School.

In addition, the LEGO Robotics Team “Space Cadets” from Holy Cross Catholic Elementary School came dressed in their spacesuits and brought their science project board, “Sleeping in Space is a Problem.” (I can still remember our space study units at school: eating space food, completing experiments and watching shuttle launches).

When I interviewed Dr. Bondar I was so excited to meet one of my heroes that I forgot to take a picture with her. Usually I have a picture with the person I interviewed shown here on this page!

The first thing I learned was that she fist bumps instead of giving a traditional handshake, which may raise her “cool factor” with the kids, but really it has more to do with arthritis.

I asked Bondar about the connection between female athletes and being successful later in life, as we both started our careers as physical education teachers/coaches. She felt that sports contributed to developing skills needed on a NASA research team.

As she explains, “Sports helps develop communication skills, cooperation/teamwork, time-management, goal setting and resilience.”

Bondar is also a huge supporter of Girl Guides for developing similar skills, as well as an appreciation for our natural environment.

We spoke about how we can encourage young girls to go in to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to which she adds an “A” for the arts and promotes STEAM. We also discussed Build A Dream which was the sample “Take the Lead” article I submitted for the interview and chatted about United Way’s STEAM program.

Bondar also believes “there is no end to reaching your potential” and “there are always new ideas, innovations and opportunities to learn if you stay alert, connected, flexible, and a life-long learner.”

She was the first Canadian female in space, joining the space shuttle Discovery in 1992. An astronaut, neurologist, physician and photographer, she conducted over 40 investigations from more than 13 countries.


Bondar spent 12 years at NASA discovering connections between astronauts recovering from space flight and neurological illnesses on Earth, like stroke and Parkinson’s disease. She also gained a new “ethical awareness and spiritual connection with our role in caring for the environment and people.”

She talks about going to the moon, Mars, or outside our solar system and believes “what we learned in terms of humanity is life-changing.”

Bondar is a Co-Founder and President of The Roberta Bondar Foundation created to inspire people to connect with nature through photography. Her pictures from space were breathtaking and her nature photos are displayed all over the world. (See photo albums on the website).

This Canadian hero epitomizes life-long learning, with a BSc in Zoology and Agriculture, MSc in Experimental Pathology, PhD in Neurobiology, MD and Board Certified Neurologist and sub-specialized in Neuro-Ophthalmology.

She has received the NASA Space Medal, Companion of the Order of Canada, Order of Ontario and was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Forum Hall of Fame.

In addition, she has 28 Honorary Degrees and various other awards. My favourite is her own star on Canada’s Walk of Fame as it is so appropriate that the first Canadian female to reach the stars now has one in her name.

In closing, I wanted to mention to celebrate Barbie’s 60th anniversary and “International Women’s Day” Mattel is shining a light on empowering role models to inspire girls. Their “Inspiring Barbie” doll collection was recently revealed with famous aviator Amelia Earhart and Katherine Johnson (the NASA mathematician in the 2016 movie “Hidden Figures”).

I would love to see Bondar added to this collection. As well I am hoping it’s not too late for me to join the space team, but I think that ship has sailed or rather that rocket has launched!

Sherrilynn Colley-Vegh is the Director of Leadership Windsor/Essex at United Way. She is a former Principal, Chief Communications Officer and business owner with over 30 years of experience in education, administration, mentoring, consulting and community leadership. If you know a leader in the community to profile here in this column, please email: [email protected]

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