Joe Swaykos Director, Center for Higher Learning, Stennis Space Center, 53, Pass Christian

NASA Stennis Space Center – Pre-Hurricane Katrina, the Stennis Space Center seemed to be on the cutting edge of science.

What has happened there since Aug. 29, 2005?

Our staff has remained intact though we had several folks who lost their homes. We have been trying to
use our technology to speed the recovery and renewal process and to better prepare the citizens of
Mississippi for the next major storm event. I say “trying” since we have been appealing to the state
and federal legislatures for funding for these projects. Everyone we have shown our work to sees the
value of it, but no one wants to pay for it.

Did Katrina set the center back?

No; we received minor damage but were back up and running within days following Katrina. The storm
actually helped us focus our two applied research programs – geospatial information systems decision
support and immersive visualization. Katrina provided opportunities for these applied technology
programs to work more closely together than in the past.

What is the Center for Higher Learning?

The Center of Higher Learning is Stennis Space Center’s “Corporate University.” We were chartered in
1989 by NASA and the state College Board to provide education and training opportunities for the Stennis
work force. Our training and education programs are provided by the University of Southern Mississippi,
Mississippi State University, the University of New Orleans and Pearl River Community College.

We offer undergraduate and graduate degree programs in disciplines such as business, computer science,
marine science, and geospatial information systems just to name a few.

The applied technology programs I mentioned earlier are intended to provide students with practical
experience through internships and part-time employment. The Center of Higher Learning receives
administrative support from USM.

What are some “real world” applications?

Our geospatial information systems group has developed two-dimensional depictions of Katrina storm
surge, storm surge extent overlaid on FEMA flood zones, flood data overlaid on city and town maps, etc.

Practically any data can be collected and displayed to answer the specific needs of our customers.

Similarly, the visualization center has developed immersive visualization of Katrina storm surge along
the Mississippi Gulf Coast. By viewing this data with 3-D goggles, the viewer gets the sensation of
“flying” through the information – similar to an IMAX theater.

High-resolution visualizations of Gulfport and Biloxi have also been developed. These tools allow the
general public to see, on a PC or on TV, what the potential impact of a given storm surge level may be in
their neighborhood. Unfortunately, without state or federal funding, these tools will never be completed.

What does the future hold?

The future of the Center of Higher Learning is bright! As new government and non-government employers
arrive at Stennis, our challenge will be to meet the needs of tomorrow’s work force. The growth
of the Internet and use of virtual classrooms will revolutionize the way in which we offer
educational opportunities. Our visualization center is about to embark on a new mission of
visualization education and training while our GIS decision support group will continue its
“data mining” work in support of local, state, and federal law enforcement.

How did you become interested in science?

My interest in science began when I was in junior high school. I was always fascinated with
learning about how and why things work. I became especially interested in the ocean and weather
so I pursued a degree in Oceanography at the U.S. Naval Academy and a Master of Science degree
in meteorology and physical oceanography at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Bloomfield, N.J., and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1976. I served 28
years in the Navy on surface ships and as an oceanographer. When I retired from the Navy in
2004, my wife and I decided that we had had enough of the fast pace of places like Washington,
D.C., and we began looking for a place that was a bit slower paced, affordable, and where the
people were friendly – sounds like Mississippi doesn’t it?

What is your personal philosophy? Is there any event that shaped your life?

My personal philosophy is one of mutual respect for people. If an individual realizes that
eveyone has some special talent and that no one of us is better than anyone else, it will
lead to personal and professional success, satisfaction and happiness.

The event that shocked me and changed my life was the death of my older brother in Vietnam when
I was 11 years old. He was William E. Swaykos. He died in January of 1965, in a fishing boat
getting some R&R (so the Army tells us) when he and three others were ambushed. The VC took
their bodies and weighed them down in the water so it took three days before we knew he had
died – 1E-83 on the Wall in D.C.

My years at the Naval Academy and in the Navy were my best attempt to carry on where he left
off in serving our country and protecting our freedom – and to make him as proud of me as I am
proud of him.

Any other point you would like to make?

As a follow on to what I said about my brother, I hope that as we are innundated day after day
with statistics from the war in Iraq that people stop and think about the impact that a severe
wound or death has on the soldier, sailor, or airman’s family.

For every casualty that occurs, there are many who suffer life long pain and sorrow. Finally,
there is no greater gift that a parent can give, no greater tool for an individual to have than
education. Education opens the world to us, especially if we are savy enough to realize that
the education process itself never ends!

– Interview by Editorial Writer Jim Ewing, Clarion Ledger

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