Interview with Emily Furfaro, NASA Headquarters
Emily Furfaro is a Social Media specialist at NASA in Washington DC. From remote locations on Earth to the depths of outer space her and her team take the public behind the scenes to understand the mysteries of our Universe. We met up with Emily during our stay in Washington to understand the pros and cons of posting for NASA, and what the future of social media in space will look like. Read on to
PLASMA: What is your current role at NASA?
Emily: My current role at NASA is Digital Media Manager in the Science Mission Directorate. That’s a technical way of saying that I work with missions and centers to share their messages on social media, web and through video (both live and produced).
PLASMA: What kinds of projects are you working on at the moment?
Emily: I wear a few different hats in this role. One of the major projects I’m working on is NASA’s new science program, called NASA Science Live. It’s a monthly 30-minute live show that’s aimed at an audience on social media. The goal is to communicate NASA Science in a light-hearted, approachable way. We’ve only filmed two episodes so far, and still have lots to work on, but I think this is a step in the right direction for NASA to continue reaching a younger generation and getting them interested in space and science. To be honest, I don’t have much experience producing live television shows, but it’s been quite the learning experience. There are so many moving parts and aspects to consider. I do think that my ability to translate complex topics into more digestible formats has significantly helped in planning out these episodes. I also really enjoy finding talent, writers and experts from across the agency and bringing them together to talk about the interconnectedness of science throughout NASA. One of my main goals of the show is to focus on the science, rather than the mission. Yes, the mission is important, but if you pique the public’s interest with the amazing science first, they’re more likely to remember the mission that performed the research. I also hope to merge science and art in this show. We gather science from spacecraft, but then once it’s on the ground, creative minds use that information to create visualizations and animations that help communicate the science. The connection between art and science is something that I hope we continue to bridge well into the future. It’s so important for young people to know that they can pursue so many different fields, and don’t need to fit inside a box. Find something that interests you and go with it!
PLASMA: What has been your career path until now? What did you study?
Emily: I went to Appalachian State University in Boone, NC (beautiful mountain town). I majored Public Relations and minored in Political Science and Spanish. After I graduated, I was accepted to be an intern in the Obama White House in the Office of Communications. It was an amazing job and it’s really what made me want to return to DC. Following the internship, I moved back to North Carolina for two years where I worked at a Content Marketing agency. Then, my manager from the White House called me one day and asked if I would be interested in a job at NASA. I of course said yes! My second or third week at NASA was the New Horizon’s Pluto flyby! It was amazing! I started at NASA on the Headquarters social media team, which was incredible. I worked alongside some amazing content producers on NASA’s flagship social media accounts, which reach over 80 million people on a daily basis.
PLASMA: Did you always want to work for NASA?
Emily: Lots of people say that they always dreamed to work at NASA, but that wasn’t my story. Space and science always interested me, but I thought I was never smart enough to work at a place like this, so never really considered it as an option. I think if I could share one piece of advice, it would be to never limit yourself and to never count yourself out. Not everyone that works at NASA is a scientist or engineer or really good at math. NASA has every type of job: communications, legal, janitor, HR, designer, the list goes on. Although I didn’t always dream of working at NASA, I can definitely say now that I am working my dream job.
PLASMA: What is the role of social media in public engagement of science? How has it facilitated public understanding of space exploration?
Emily: Social media is an incredible tool for communicating science. Although it’s difficult to condense complex information into a Tweet, I do think it requires us to think strategically about what we want to say and how we want to communicate. Social media is where the public is, so it’s only natural for science communicators to bring their messages there. I also love that social media allows NASA to play in pop culture. Interactions on Twitter or other platforms with celebrities like Ariana Grande, One Direction, Will Smith and others have allowed NASA to reach audiences that it might never touch previously, and that’s exciting to me. If we can make a young, teenage girl interested in what we’re doing because their favorite band posts about our work, that’s an amazing success in my book. It’s all about talking to new audiences, and social media allows us to reach those new places, rather than talking to the same group over and over again.
PLASMA: What inspires you in your job? What was the most challenging project you’ve been part of in your current role?
Emily: The people who engage with our content inspire me. Every time I see a positive comment on social media or talk with someone in person who is genuinely interested in space and NASA science, I am inspired to continue making those sorts of impressions on people with my work. To be able to be an advocate for humanity’s exploration of the cosmos is an inspiring thought. I love talking with people about NASA’s work and getting them excited about the future of science. The hardest project I’ve worked on so far has been this NASA Science Live show. I’m not an experienced producer, yet NASA has entrusted me with developing a monthly live TV series. It’s a lot of pressure, and a ton of work, but it’s also really exciting and rewarding. I hope that my ability to look at things from an outsider’s perspective will result in communications that connect with a wider audience and interest them in what NASA is doing. My goal with everything I write is to make sure that a young child and a grandparent could both understand and get excited about the topic. We can’t talk at people, but instead need to talk at their level to get them interested and engaged.
PLASMA: What is the future of space PR and social media?
Emily: I’m excited at the endless options for space and communications. Who would have thought that we’d have a rover on Mars that also has a first-person Twitter account, posting about everything it does? That’s such a relatable way to communicate about a mission. I hope in the future we can continue to develop and utilize technologies like VR to bring people to the places we talk about all the time. I also hope we continue to utilize immersive technology, partnered with art, to communicate science to the public.
full article published in PLASMA magazine 5