Back to Cibola High: Making the Most of My Opportunities

By Jay Levine

Editor, NASA Dryden X-Press

For the first time in more than two decades I walked through the doors of Cibola High School in Albuquerque, N.M. from which I graduated many years ago. I had returned as part of NASA’s community outreach during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

When I was a high school student at Cibola and working for the community newspaper, the Rio Rancho Observer, and at every job since, I have always made my own opportunities by asking a lot of questions and taking risks that stretch my abilities.

I wasn’t just there to tell the nearly 100 students taking journalism and communication classes about my amazing job and all of the things I have accomplished. I didn’t mention all of the awards or accolades I have received. I also wasn’t there to awe them with the fact that someone from their school has seen some of the world’s most interesting aircraft at NASA Dryden, and that I have sat in the pilot’s seat on a space shuttle.

I was there instead to give them an opportunity, thanks to my old and new friends at the Rio Rancho Observer. The day before the presentation, I had introduced myself to the current Observer staff. Editor Tommy Trujillo graciously agreed to talk to any students who wanted to write or take photos, just for the experience of being published. Just as important, he offered those interested students the opportunity to shadow a reporter, or even himself.

Ironically, I also had the opportunity to see Gary Herron, the Observer editor when I was earning a few bucks by writing a weekly article for the paper while I was in high school. When I was a student, he gave me an old camera that barely focused, but it did broaden my experience. His teachings about the workings of the darkroom led to a part-time position with the paper after high school graduation. In fact, I wrote about and photographed my high school graduation for the Observer.

I know that only a handful might take advantage of the opportunity. That’s not the point. The idea is that it is an example of something they could be thinking about on how to begin their career path. I told them to ask lots of questions, to make their own opportunities, and to be on the lookout for ways to expand their options.

Who knows? Maybe one day one of them will work for NASA.