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Roberta Johnson Killeen receives two honors for geoscience education
Awards recognize her public outreach and educational efforts

May 26, 2017

URBANA – Roberta Johnson Killeen, first lady of the University of Illinois System, recently received two major awards for her work in geoscience education. In December 2016, she received the Athelstan Spilhaus Award from the American Geophysical Union (AGU) for her work to expand public awareness and understanding of Earth and space sciences. In March 2017, she received the Jan Woerner and Harold B. Stonehouse Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA).

Johnson Killeen, an educator and researcher in geophysics, was honored for efforts that include the award-winning Windows to the Universe (www.windows2universe.org) project, one of the world’s most popular education and outreach websites on Earth and space sciences.

Windows to the Universe is a user-friendly learning system that offers age-appropriate content for students in kindergarten through high school, combining interdisciplinary science with the arts and humanities to cover topics ranging from geology to astronomy.

Johnson Killeen began development of the website in 1995 while working as an upper atmospheric researcher at the University of Michigan, with funding support from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and continued to direct the project through 2016, with support from numerous sponsors including the Hewlett Foundation and the National Science Foundation. The website has been translated into Spanish and attracts more than 12 million visitors a year.

The Athelstan Spilhaus Award is given annually to one of AGU’s more than 62,000 member geophysicists around the world, honoring their efforts to promote public engagement that conveys the “excitement, significance and beauty of the Earth and space sciences.” The full citation for her award, and her response, are available here.

Established in 2003, the award is named for the late Athelstan F. Spilhaus Sr., a geophysicist and meteorologist whose outreach efforts included “Our New Age,” a science cartoon that once ran in more than 100 Sunday newspapers across the country.

Johnson Killeen was also recognized for her service to NESTA and Earth science education at the national and international levels. She served as executive director of NESTA from 2006-2015. Since the initiation of the Windows to the Universe project, and during her leadership of NESTA, she led efforts to provide professional development opportunities to thousands of in-service and pre-service teachers nationally and internationally. 

NESTA is the nation’s largest association of K-12 Earth and space science educators. Founded in 1983, NESTA facilitates and advances excellence in K-12 Earth and Space Science education. 

Johnson Killeen earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in geophysics and space physics from the University of California, Los Angeles. She most recently served as a clinical professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences at the State University of New York at Albany before moving to Illinois when her husband, Tim Killeen, was named president of the U of I System.

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The University of Illinois System is a world leader in research and discovery, the largest educational institution in the state with more than 81,000 students, 24,000 faculty and staff, and universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield. The U of I System awards more than 20,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees annually.