Dr. Sian Proctor is a professor of geosciences at South Mountain Community College, an analog
astronaut, Open Education Resource Coordinator and a crew member of Inspiration4 – one of the first missions to go to space with an all-civilian crew.
Born on the island of Guam, Sian Proctor spent her childhood in Minnesota and New Hampshire.
Proctor’s identity was shaped by her experiences being outdoors, immersed in nature. Her curiosity and earnestness manifested in catching lizards, salamanders and snakes. Parallelly, she exhibited natural inclination towards mathematics and science which can be attributed to the scientific values instilled in her by her father, a scientist working at the Nasa Tracking Stations during the Apollo missions.
In her family. the foremost important value was the pursuit of education. This is set in the post segregation era of the 1970’s, the generation before her had lived half of their lives in segregation. Proctor pursued her elementary and high school education in a setting that was not conducive towards African Americans. She had to face challenges — the lack of support and inattentiveness from predominantly white schools. Nonetheless, she completed her high school education successfully from Fairport High School in New York.
When Proctor was a high school senior, her father’s cancer treatment altered the conventional process of college hunting. She went on to pursue her undergraduate degree from the same university as her brother and received a B.S. in Environmental Science with a minor in mathematics from Edinboro University. Though not a conscious decision at that time, choosing environmental science helped Proctor gain skills in all the broad sciences. The Intro to Media and Television Production class in her last year as an undergraduate helped her secure a job that she didn’t foresee. Proctor was now a video editor in the late 1990‘s for a five-six and eleven clock news at Rochester.
After working for two years and reflecting on her work she decided she wanted to achieve a few things. She decided to, “move out, get back into the sciences, further her education, marry a cowboy and live out in the west.” Arizona State University fit the box. Proctor was invited to study at ASU with in-state tuition, was offered a job as a Teaching Assistant and was permitted to complete her undergraduate deficiencies in terms of credits at graduate school.
Proctor’s black jeep wrangler received a warm welcome, literally, when she arrived at the Phoenix valley in the summer of 1994. The warm nights in the valley excited her as opposed to the cool nights she was used to in New York. Proctor’s insights about Arizona and South Phoenix were shaped by the media. The national television covered only Arizona’s brutal weather and South Phoenix was not shown in a good light by a popular reality television show which starred members of the law enforcement.
After residing in South Tempe for four years to pursue her master’s degree, she started teaching as an adjunct at Mesa Community College and Glendale Community College while simultaneously pursuing a PhD from ASU. The teaching assistantship that she had previously pursued in her master’s degree was a pivotal moment in her career where she realized that she was going to take up teaching as a profession. Another exciting opportunity presented itself to Dr. Proctor when South Mountain Community College put out a job listing for a full-time geology professor.
Due to the perceptions about South Phoenix perpetuated by the media, people were apprehensive of the area. When Proctor decided to move out from South Tempe to buy a house in South Phoenix her friends were reluctant to join her. All of these perceptions were shattered when Proctor visited the South Mountain Community College for the first time and instantly felt at home. Her walk to the Math, Science and Engineering department resulted in a warm feeling.
“I belong here.”
South Mountain Community College was the most diverse community Proctor had been a part of after living all over in the east. She was in awe. Growing up education had been her family’s priority; the tradeoff was the diversity in those communities and classrooms. The job was offered to Proctor. She has been the first and only full time geology professor at South Mountain Community College till date. Proctor’s vision for the geology department was to integrate
technology into the teaching methodology. These efforts paid off — from the experimental projects like The Geo Wall to the hybrid teaching mode which had unknowingly prepared Proctor and other former adjuncts of the geology department for the online teaching that was to ensue due to the pandemic.
Keeping up with the rapid growth of technology and reinventing the curriculum are Proctor’s two
important tenets. She was also aware of the opportunities that surrounded her and participated in International Faculty Exchanges something people from the South didn’t really partake in.
Proctor actively utilized the support from the college in terms of teaching with technology which allowed her to develop her program. However, she started to notice a shift in the culture of the college during her mid-career transition and return from her sabbaticals. In addition to the large chunk of the teaching staff retiring, the president and vice presidents becoming interim, instability permeated into the college. The new culture shift arose naturally when new academics were hired. Proctor had to navigate how to form connections with the new community at college.
The best day at South Mountain Community College for Proctor was the day she found out that Leland Melvin had been trying to get in touch with her. She had applied for the NASA Astronaut Program and was elated to know that they were checking her references.
Proctor would always like to lead by example. Always making use of opportunities and putting yourself out there are advice she shares with her students but makes sure to follow it herself. Her father’s words “jack of all opportunities, master of nothing” persisted in her thoughts, through her endeavors she flipped the phrase into “jack of all opportunity, master of life experiences”.
Dr. Proctor wants to build a robust geosciences program at South Mountain Community College in the next few years. The aim is to promote and spread awareness about geology as a subject and create digital literacy as a “cornerstone” at SMCC. Along with digital literacy comes the urgent need to establish what Proctor calls the JEDI space – Justice, Equitable, Diverse, Inclusive space where voices of faculty, administration and students can be empowered. In the same vein during times of injustice, Dr. Proctor wants people to be reasonably called out.
In 2021, Dr. Proctor learned that she was selected to pilot one of the first all-civilian missions into space. Aboard a SpaceX-operated Crew Dragon capsule, Proctor and three other civilians will spend three days in space as part of the Inspiration4 Spaceflight mission, which is raising money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
- Time Magazine, “Meet the Inspiration4 Team, the World’s First Non-Professional Astronaut Space Crew” (March 2021).
- “Sian Proctor,” Wikipedia
- Tom Charlier. “She got her ‘golden ticket’ to space, not from NASA, but through Inspiration4.” St. Jude Inspire.
|Birthdate||March 28, 1970|
|Place of Origin||Guam|
|Place of Residence||Space for 3 days in 2021. Also South Phoenix, Arizona|
|Role||Professor of Geosciences at South|
Mountain Community College
|Years Active in South Phoenix||1999 –|
|Interviewed by||Faculty Researchers: Summer|
Cherland and Travis May
|Story written by|| Story Written By Jyotsna Iyer |
* Jyotsna is in her final year of an undergraduate degree in Political Science and English Literature at St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi, India.