Student Superheroes: All Suited Up

YMCA Texas YG District 5
YMCA Texas Youth and Government District 5 Conference

Last Saturday, I spent my day surrounded by 1500 middle and high school superheroes suited up in business attire for the YMCA Texas Youth and Government (YG) District 5 Conference. Their superpower, however, does not come from the outside appearance. Rather, it emanates from the inside, from well-honed critical thinking skills. And it’s an awesome force to behold!

My Badge: YMCA Texas YG District 5
My Badge: YMCA Texas YG District 5

Students from schools in the North Texas area who participate in the District Conference take part in one of the following tracks: Senior Legislative, Junior Legislative, Judicial, State Affairs for High School and Middle School, and Media. Not only do they conduct mock trials, and propose, debate, and pass legislation; they also campaign and vote for state offices. Alex Searles, McKinney’s candidate for District Governor, was elected to office. He and his team will now campaign for State office at the State Conference in Austin in January. 

YMCA Texas YG District 5 Governor
New YMCA Texas YG District 5 Governor from McKinney

This was my first YMCA YG District experience. All the McKinney schools take a collaborative approach by working together as a community with one voice, rather than pitting schools against each other. I love being part of the McKinney family of volunteer advisors. Most are parents with kids in the programs, but others [like me] participate because we love kids AND the governmental processes.

I was privileged to serve as a Senior Legislative Committee evaluator during the day. As the students present their bills, ask questions, offer pro and con arguments, and amendments, we evaluate their debate skills. We look at grammar and organization, quality of oral delivery, quality of questions, and relevance to the debate. Many of the kids are new to public speaking, and this experience offers them a safe place to practice their skills. As evaluators, we not only score their effort, but also offer suggestions on how to improve. 

The bills they brought forward in committee offer an interesting window into their cultural perspectives on current issues — some of which surprised me. The maturity of thinking, demonstrated by the strength of arguments they posed to bill authors, and creative approaches to solutions, was simply astounding. For instance, one student offered an intriguing bill to require bars to create a menu of “panic button” drinks that allow patrons to let bartenders know they need help. For example, a bar can create the “cotton candy/peppermint drink with ice” — with the “coded menus” posted in the bathrooms. A different code would be posted in the male and female bathrooms, with the instruction that ordering this drink means ‘I need someone to escort me to my car’ or ‘call the police.’ The bars will change out the panic button drink menus each month. The kids asked great questions: such as, what if the bartender blows you off when you order the panic button drink? What if the bartender is the aggressor? What about male-on-male assault — the panic button poster in the men’s room would be meaningless? How would the state enforce the panic button bill? What if someone orders the panic button drink without knowing what it means?The bill’s author fielded all the questions well, and the bill passed out of committee.

Other bills included the elimination of race designations from college applications, a law requiring abuse shelters for men in each county, annual high school vision screening requirements, racial profiling educational training to be conducted by police at local high schools. One student offered a bill to prevent the release of the names of officers involved in a shooting, to protect them from harm by angry community members. The debate revolved around transparency, freedom of speech in social media, punishment for ‘leakers’, and personal/family safety concerns. These kids aren’t afraid to take socially volatile positions, for the sake of debate.

Austin Capitol

What’s next? The State Conference in Austin. Students from across the state will take over the State House and Senate chambers to practice the governance process. I’m thrilled to watch them grow into their roles as leaders of tomorrow. From what I can see, we’re in GREAT hands!

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Youth in Government

I am an unabashed govvie. I nerd out on the governmental process — which can be totally distinct from bureaucracy. Bureaucratic processes can be found in most well-established, hierarchical organizations to ensure decisions at the top flow down. As a non-linear, disruptive thinker, I’m generally not a fan of bureaucratic practice, but rather the role of democracy to represent the people and bring about public good — which is an inherently governmental process. The social science behind how we govern fascinates me, while the politics of human nature can be tedious. I believe in the inherent goodness of our democratic processes in the US, but understand that even the best system can be misused and abused for personal gain. This is not an indictment of our current political environment, by any means, because history is rife with examples of political intrigue and discord. It’s in our best interest, as a nation, to train our youth to be thoughtful, passionate future leaders who can problem-solve and make reasonable decisions for our nation. To this end, I’m thrilled to take part in the YMCA Youth in Government program.

See. Government really IS fun! Just look at those faces. Image credit: YMCA Texas

See. Government really IS fun! Just look at those faces. Image credit: YMCA Texas

Here’s why I love this program: it’s all about “equipping a generation to improve our nation.” The YMCA Texas Youth and Government program offers hands-on student-led activities to learn about, and practice, the governance processes at the State level. By participating, I have an opportunity to help prepare the leaders for tomorrow.

YMCA Youth in Government mission: “To help teenagers become responsible citizens and future leaders of our nation.”

Floor debate at the Texas Capitol. Image credit: YMCA TX

Floor debate at the Texas Capitol. Image credit: YMCA TX

This weekend, I attended an all-day training for advisors. I serve on the McKinney city team, specifically at McKinney Boyd High School. I’ve attended two after-school Youth in Government club meetings at Boyd so far, with another one today. My role will be to help guide them in selecting bill topics, edit the bills they draft, accompany them to the district and state conferences — and whatever else they throw my way. I learned a great deal at the training, including details about the key areas of programming that students can take part in.

Legislative – Grades 6-12: Students discuss topics of interest related to Texas law, research the topics in order to write a one page bill, learn and follow Parliamentary Procedures, lead discussions in committees and on the floor of the House and Senate, learn debating skills, and practice public speaking skills.

Judicial – Grades 9-12: – Students study an actual criminal or civil case for trial or appellate court, including procedures, rules of evidence, objections, laws for precedence, then serve as attorneys, appellate attorneys, and witnesses.

Media – Grades 9-12: Students learn about the role of the media, research current issues, practice writing and editing skills, as well as technical skills associated with camera equipment, online publishing, and social media.

State Affairs Forum – Grades 6-12: Students research current issues and draft one page proposals to solve an issue, learn and practice Parliamentary Procedure, and practice debating skills.

While the YMCA Texas Youth and Government program is modeled after the competitive political environment that exists at the local and federal level, the YMCA Model United Nations is designed around collaborative problem-solving practices.

YMCA Texas Youth In Government participants. Image credit: YMCA Texas

Go Texas! Image credit: YMCA Texas

So far, they boast 40 state programs with 25,000 students and over 3000 volunteer advisors. I get to bump up their stats by one, as I dive into my role as advisor to the local McKinney club. I look forward to learning and growing with the students in our local club — especially at the State Conference in January in Austin at the Texas State Capitol.

Austin, here we come!


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McKinney Teachers are Out of This World!

This morning, I had the great honor of attending the McKinney ISD new teacher breakfast hosted by the McKinney Chamber of Commerce. This year’s theme –“Teachers are Out of This World” — was a perfect fit for me to share some space-y awesomeness from my time at NASA.

The event, convened in the McKinney Boyd High School cafeteria, was packed with excited and enthusiastic educators. Many of the teachers are fresh out of college, while others transferred from various school districts. Bringing teachers together in this way creates community, and shows them how much the City values them.

McKinney ISD New Teacher Breakfast at Boyd High School.

McKinney ISD New Teacher Breakfast at Boyd High School.

I love the opportunity to ignite a passion for human spaceflight with audiences. This morning, I offered empirical evidence that teachers really ARE out of this world. In fact, former Teacher and Spacewalker Ricky Arnold is orbiting Earth right now onboard the International Space Station. The “Year of Education on Station” campaign will go through October 2019. Teachers can participate: #TeacherOnBoard.

Year Of Education On Station Poster. #TeacherOnBoard

Year Of Education On Station Poster. #TeacherOnBoard

I asked how many in the room were aware we have an orbiting laboratory with six humans living and working in low earth orbit. Only a portion of the room raised their hands. What? How can that be? We need explorers for the future. Our teachers are key to preparing tomorrow’s cosmic pioneers. I hope today opened their eyes to the possibilities our heavens offer for knowledge and understanding about the universe we live in.  They can create dreamers and doers, artists and technicians, travelers and explorers. I see teachers as human Lagrange points — the equilibrium state between childhood and adulthood, between today and tomorrow. They can unlock potential in the students, that the students (and their parents) may not see. I’m confident these teachers are up to the challenge!

Teachers are Lagrange Points -- the waystation between what is and what can be for students. Beth Beck

Teachers play a crucial role preparing students for the difficult journey ahead.

A special note of thanks to McKinney Chamber President, Lisa Hermes — space geek extraordinaire — for inviting me to speak, and for the amazing Jocelyn Hudson, Events Manager, who put on today’s successful event. They’ve both been so gracious to me, as a newcomer to this City.  I love meeting new members of the community. This morning was no exception. Not only did I meet many enthusiastic teachers and representatives of the business community, I also sat with several members of City Council: District 2 City Councilman Rainey RogersDistrict 3 Scott Elliott, and District 4 Chuck Branch. I spoke with two of the McKinney ISD Board Members: Board Vice President Amy Dankel, a fellow Virginia Tech alum; and 5th generation McKinney native, Kenneth Ussery. School Board and City Council are elected to serve four-year terms, and clearly love their role in shaping a great place for us to live, work, and go to school.

Dream Big Little Ones globe

The City of McKinney really does treat her teachers well. I learned today that the school district pays teachers more than the surrounding school districts — to attract the best of the best, and to keep them in McKinney. Well done, McKinney! It really is a wonderful life here in my new hometown.

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Grape Harvest: Crushing It!

This morning, my sister Aimee and I arose before dawn and traveled to nearby Celina, Texas to participate in our first grape harvest at Eden Hill Vineyard. They supplied gloves, buckets, and nifty little grape razors to free the grapes from the wine. Aimee and I volunteered to be “crushers,” though we had no idea what that meant.

Tempranillo Grape Cluster at Eden Hill Vineyard. Image: Beth Beck 2018

Tempranillo Grape Cluster at Eden Hill Vineyard. Image: Beth Beck 2018

The weather was cool, almost chilly — quite a change from our blistering summer heat. We learned how to remove the grapes, gently, and fill the buckets for crushing. As crushers, we loaded the grape clusters onto a conveyor belt to be crushed between two rollers that separated the grapes from their stems. No stomping the grapes with our feet — aren’t you glad?

Getting the grapes on the conveyer belt was a bit crazy. We could only put so many grapes on each shelf without bruising the grapes. One person “dumped” the grapes from the harvest bins into the conveyor bin, while many hands sorted, stacked, sifted for leaves and sticks. If you’ve ever seen the classic I Love Lucy Season 2 episode in the candy factory where Lucy and Ethel scrambling to wrap the chocolates on the moving belt, that’s totally how we felt today. We just had to laugh. At least we tried!

I Love Lucy: Candy Factory Episode with Lucy and Ethel trying to keep up with the conveyor belt.

I Love Lucy: Candy Factory Episode with Lucy and Ethel trying to keep up with the conveyor belt.

During the crushing process, our Eden Hill hosts received a call from a sister winery, Square Hill, asking for help harvesting their viognier grapes. We give up our crusher assignments, and picked up the gloves and clippers for harvest, Round 2. A group of us caravan-ed down the road to the winery, and spent the next hour or so with new hosts. By this time of the morning, however, the sun was in full scorch-shine mode.

We returned to Eden Hill in time for a wonderful catered lunch. Fortunately, we had an opportunity to chat with wine maker Chris Hornbaker. Poor guy was trying to eat, but we kept peppering him with questions. He’s extremely passionate about the winemaking process — which sounds like an incredibly complicated chemistry experiment. He adopted stainless steel and square barrels for a more sustainable winemaking  footprint. He shared the sad tale of oak barrels that are made from 200 year old trees, yet only last for five years in service to wine making. They also collect rainwater on the property to irrigate the vines, and cleanse all the barrels and equipment. You can try it in their wine room, when you come visit Eden Hill. It’s a bit of heaven in a glass. And the wine too!

What had a fabulous time today. We made new friends, experienced our first harvest crush, and learned a bit about the winemaking process. Now I’m curious to learn more. Bottling comes next. I’m in!

Awesome Eden Hill Tempranillo 2018 Crush Crew!

Awesome Eden Hill Tempranillo 2018 Crush Crew!

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Volunteer McKinney

Did you know McKinney was ranked #1 on Money Magazine’s Best Place to Live List in 2014? Every day, I discover new reasons why McKinney made the list AND why I love living here.

Today, I spent time with Dana Riley, Executive Director of Volunteer McKinney — which Dana describes as the “ for local nonprofits and community volunteers.” She’s right! Founded in 1998, Volunteer McKinney is a place for citizens to learn about volunteer opportunities, and for nonprofits to list their needs. Their newly redesigned website is easy to navigate and provides up-to-date information about organizations, with a monthly calendar for a quick overview of events.

Volunteer McKinney Mission Statement:

Connecting people to their passion through volunteerism and supporting McKinney area nonprofits through training and collaboration.

I’m looking forward to several events coming up this summer and fall, all hosted by Volunteer McKinney — specifically the Collin County Giving Day which features organization booths (and animals…if snakes qualify as animals….) in a fun, festival environment; Santa on the Square, which offers families one-on-one time with Santa at scheduled intervals in Santa’s Workshop; and McKinney Make A Difference Day, where hundreds of volunteers fan out to do projects to help the community. In fact, Volunteer McKinney recently received national recognition for Make A Difference Day, which included a $10,000 grant from Arby’s Foundation.

Volunteer McKinney Make a Difference Day. Image: Volunteer McKinney

Volunteer McKinney Make a Difference Day. Image: Volunteer McKinney

Volunteer McKinney conducts an annual Homeless Census. Dana explained they work with local organizations to collect numbers, but also conduct a survey on one night each year where teams work with the police and fire department in a grid pattern across the city.  Volunteer McKinney also hosts the McKinney Summit on Youth to provide resources and training materials for individuals and organizations working with at-risk youth. The Summit has an impressive list of collaborating agencies, including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Job Corps The Samaritan Inn, Collin College, McKinney Education Foundation, and many more. Dana would love to provide the model for other interested communities. Reach out to her if you want to learn more.

Volunteer McKinney Summit on Youth

Volunteer McKinney Summit on Youth. Image: Volunteer McKinney

Dana is passionate about her job. It’s infectious. She’s part of the reason that McKinney is one of the Best Places to Live. I’m excited to learn more ways to contribute back to my new community through volunteering — now that I have more time. I’ve already found a few opportunities on the website that I plan to sign up for. Thanks Dana for sharing you wealth of knowledge with me.

T-shirt from 2017 Volunteer McKinney Make a Difference Day. Image: Beth Beck

T-shirt from 2017 Make a Difference Day.

This really is a wonderful life in small town USA!!

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July 11, 2018 · 11:35 pm

Exploring Life After NASA

In anticipation of saying goodbye to NASA at the end of my career in federal service, I packed up my life and moved across country to Texas. Though I was born and raised in Texas, I’ve spent nearly 30 years working in Washington, DC. working for the federal government. The transition was not easy.

Beth's NASA equipment on her final day before retirement.

My final day at NASA. I powered down my devices and left them in my office.

Why the big move, you may ask. Why not stay in luscious, green, heavily-treed Virginia? The answer: family commitments.

We packed everything into PODS, which went into storage four months while I lived and teleworked from a room in my sister’s house. My sister Aimee is a small business owner in McKinney. Her studio, Aimee Louise Photography, is located in the historic Cotton Mill. She graciously opened her home to me during the house hunt — which took so much longer than I anticipated. After putting down offers on two houses, I ended up with my dream home in McKinney’s historic district — only 15 minutes from Aimee’s house. It’s a 103-year-old Craftsman with 55 windows with original glass. We’re only two blocks from Town Square, so we can walk for eating, shopping, and town festivities. It’s truly a wonderful life in small town, USA.

Truckload of Beth's Treasures: the Big Move to McKinney.

Truckload of my Treasures: the Big Move to McKinney.

Most people ask what my plans are, now that I’m no longer at NASA. Right now, I’m thoroughly enjoying this “extended vacation.” I’m reading books, working in the yard, unpacking bins, and spending time with family.  I’ve enjoyed meeting interesting people and learning how McKinney operates. I’m looking forward to opportunities to contribute to the community, as the stars align.

My sister and I are collaborating on a “TEXploration” project. We’re taking one day a month (or more as Aimee’s schedule permits) to go back-roads cowboy-culture hunting in surrounding communities — historical sights, interesting people, good food, and great deals (yes, it’s really all about the shopping). Aimee will document our journey with her fabulous photography, and I’ll blog about what we find. We’ll begin sharing soon. Feel free to suggest interesting places for us to go.


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5 Thoughts for the New Year

Question the rules. You don’t know if they are really the rules. Someone made them up for some reason, or someone interpreted what they think the rules are. Those rules may not even exist, other than by urban legend. Ask before you follow.


Find your joy. Even in the bleakest circumstances, you can find something to smile about – IF you look for it. And, even if you don’t feel it, others around you need it. Give yourself and others a reason to smile.


Celebrate the small things. The little things in life give us a reason to get through the day: an awesome cup of coffee, and up-close parking space, a sprinkle of hope with a new work assignment. Each little thing in your day offers a new opportunity to have a party (vs. a pity party).


Be exceptional. Make a choice to add your unique perspective to each new undertaking. Only you can bring yourself, the incredible you, to every opportunity presented you. Even if others don’t appreciate you, you can bring value.


Be the light. It can be as easy as thanking someone. What a incredible gift to give thanks, unsolicited. How many times does someone say thank you to you? If your answer is rarely, then you can break the cycle. Make it a habit to change your world by giving thanks for the unnoticed actions of others at least once a day – someone opening a door, or moving to give you a place at the counter, or for smiling when others are self-absorbed.


As we ring in the New Year, I wish for you that your dreams take flight in 2017, and go BEYOND the moon and back.


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