Space Gal Emily Calandrelli on Encouraging Kids to Be What They Want



  • Emily Calandrelli is the host of Emily’s Wonder Lab on Netflix.
  • She’s an aerospace engineer who’s passionate about space and has worked at NASA. 
  • This is her story, as told to Kelly Burch.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Emily Calandrelli. It has been edited for length and clarity.

When I was growing up, I didn’t know any scientists. The only time I saw them was when they were on TV, so they seemed so far removed from the real world. I’m incredibly passionate about science now, but I chose this career for purely practical reasons after I looked up the starting salaries for a few different degrees. Engineers seemed to make decent money, so I decided that’s what I would be.

Choosing to study STEM intimidated me. Luckily, once I got into the career, I found inspiration. I discovered all the wonderful experiences one can have working in this field. I got to study at MIT and work at NASA, meeting some of the brightest minds, including my wonderful husband. 

But I’ve realized a lot of kids grow up like I did: without a good understanding of all the options available to them. So, in addition to breaking down space-related topics and fighting for more rights for breastfeeding moms, I’m also passionate about helping kids find passion for their futures. 

Passion begins with curiosity

Most of the work that I do focuses on inspiring kids to be curious. That’s what I try to do with my work with Bill Nye and on “Emily’s Wonder Lab.” Now, I’m bringing that curiosity to a new podcast partnership with Lingokids. 

On “Growin’ Up” I speak with people in all sorts of careers, from musicians to first responders and, of course, scientists. We aim to give kids real-life examples of what it’s like to be in those careers. By sharing these stories, I think we can open options to kids who otherwise might not be exposed to them. 

Curiosity is the most beautiful part of childhood. Sure, as parents we can get annoyed when our kids constantly ask “why.” But it’s so amazing that our kids are confident enough to ask those questions; when we get older, we too often stop asking “why” and feel embarrassed about the things we don’t know. That’s such a shame — there will always be more to learn about the universe. 

An equal partner is key to my success

The day-to-day logistics of being a parent can distract us from that curiosity. Today, my 3-year-old daughter woke up sick, which meant she had to stay home. That led to some quick schedule comparisons with my husband to see which meetings we couldn’t miss, and when we could take turns caring for her. I even pulled out the cake pops to try to distract her during an interview, but tears still interrupted us. 

There’s not always balance. Sometimes being a working parent means muting the call to comfort your child and distract her with another pop, or putting on yet another Disney show. For me, the saving grace is having an equal partner. The importance of that cannot be overstated. I may be able to figure out complex concepts about space, but I couldn’t do this parenting thing alone. 



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