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NASA institute honors geology faculty member for early career accomplishments

By Bill Studenc

Dr. Amy Fagan at her computer


Amy Fagan, associate professor of geology at Western Carolina University, is one of two winners of a NASA award given annually to scientists from around the world who make significant contributions to the science or exploration communities early in their careers.

Fagan is a recipient of NASA’s Susan Mahan Niebur Early Career Award presented by NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute, created by the national space agency in 2013.

Niebur was a champion of early career scientists, and most of the previous recipients of the award named in her memory are close mentors and colleagues, Fagan said.

“To be included in that group is a great honor, and I am thrilled to have been able to share the award this year with my good friend, Dr. Ryan Watkins,” she said. “Each awardee gives a speech on a topic of the recipient’s choosing. I chose to talk about the importance of mentoring in my life and professional career. As we get nearer to the beginning of the semester, it is a wonderful time to think about how a great mentor has helped each of us, and how we can help our students succeed.”

Fagan’s service to the professional activities of the science community has been exemplary, the institute said in its announcement. She has served on several NASA science mission directorate review panels, as a NASA lunar exploration analysis group member and operations chair, and as a Committee on Space Research rapid response specific action team member.

She also has served as session chair, co-chair and co-organizer for sessions and panels at several scientific conferences. A former postdoctoral fellow at the Lunar and Planetary Institute where she received the organization’s Career Development Award in 2012, she is currently a NASA Apollo sample principal investigator.

A close up of a piece of a space rock


The award recognizes Fagan’s deep commitment to advancing science and her profession and the passion for lunar and planetary geology she shares with her students in the classroom, in the lab and in the field, said Brandon Schwab, WCU associate provost for academic affairs.

“Dr. Fagan routinely takes students to regional analytical facilities to collect chemical data on lunar samples, providing students with hands-on experiential learning opportunities studying rock samples that originated from the surface of the moon,” Schwab said. “This is an opportunity that only a handful of institutions across the country can offer to their students.”

Fagan received her bachelor’s degree in geology with honors from Washington and Lee University in 2006 and her doctorate in lunar petrology from the University of Notre Dame in 2013. Her doctoral research focused on volcanic and impact processes on Mars and the moon. At WCU, her main areas of research are petrology, minerology, planetary geology and lunar geology.

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