Alaska Buzzin' for Buzz Aldrin

"Exploration is wired into our brains. If we can see the horizon, we want to know what's beyond."  -Buzz Aldrin

One of my passions is exploring Alaska, and I recently met one of the world's foremost explorers, Astronaut Buzz Aldrin.  He's the second person to walk on the Moon, not to mention the inspiration for the Buzz Lightyear character inToy Story.  Oh, and he's 83 years old and has a Twitter account. Pretty remarkable guy if you ask me.

Buzz was in town for a string of events in support of the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA).  I was blessed to have an invite to two special events - a mid-day on-campus pizza luncheon and a swanky evening banquet - to meet and greet the famed explorer.

The on-campus meet and greet was kicked off by this outstanding dance group and an intro from ANSEP founder, Dr. Herb Schroder:

Buzz relayed some keen advice to the group:

As if Buzz's spiel wasn't electric enough, the lunch meeting ended with this powerful Alaska Native drum sequence:

Meeting THE Buzz Aldrin is such an extraordinary event that it calls for extraordinary attire.  I chose to show off a quintessential Alaska Native fashion - my one-of-a-kind kuspuk handmade for me by my Mom, Betty.  A kuspuk is a traditional Native Alaskan overshirt garment typically worn in northern Alaska.  I coupled my new kuspuk with my qiviut nachaq (muskox wool scarf) and a fossilized ivory hair comb.  And when some of the ANSEP students asked if I was a student from Fairbanks, I blushed and grinned like I was 20 again!

More photos from the ANSEP lunch featuring Buzz Aldrin:

Later that day...

The Dena'ina Center in bustling downtown Anchorage was the site for a special invite-only VIP reception with Buzz himself (sponsored by ExxonMobil). 

To stand alongside a true-blue astronaut and to be in the company of the nation's top oil execs and the state's premier leaders was an intimidating experience. But in Alaska, the key is to take it all in stride. You never know who you're going to meet, and that's an adventure in and of itself.

Here's the Alaska state flag that was carried to the moon and back on Apollo 11.  Above the flag is a fragment of the Moon's surface brought to Earth by the crew of that first manned lunar landing.

Being originally from the Rocket City (Huntsville, Alabama), it was awe-inspiring to hear Buzz's message in person.  I have worked alongside actual rocket scientists, and many of my friends are aerospace engineers, pilots, or combustion scientists.  Needless to say, I was filled with glee to have the opportunity to shake the hand of this legend.

My friend, Sharon, captured this impromptu picture of me and Buzz during the VIP reception.  I think a fun caption could be: "Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce my good friend, Candice."

Following the reception was the major event of the evening, the 2013 ANSEP Celebration and Extravaganza.  The banquet is always a delightful event, complete with traditional Alaska Native dancing, delicious cuisine, the opportunity to network with talented students, and a flurry of awards. I was honored to be called on stage and awarded a beautifully painted elk hide hand drum made by Odin Lonning (Tlingit).  It was a beyond exciting experience and stands as one of the proudest moments of my time in Alaska so far.

With my amazing friend, Sharon, and my beautiful new ANSEP award.

On stage with the other awardees, ANSEP students, and Dr. Herb Schroeder at the podium.

Then came the keynote speaker.  Buzz Aldrin delivered a riveting message coupled with a short film and a slideshow of his lunar adventures.  One of my favorite slides featured the following verse: "When I consider the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars that thou hast ordained, what is man that thou art mindful of him?" (Psalm 8:3-4).

Buzz Aldrin presents to more than 1,200 attendees at the 2013 ANSEP Annual Banquet.

It was inspiring to hear Buzz's thoughts on a mission to Mars and the importance of a STEAM emphasis in education - Science, Technology, Engineering, ARTS, and Math.  Dr. Aldrin also shared a bit about his background, including his struggles with celebrity and sobriety.  He proudly announced he has been sober since 1978 - a remark which struck a chord with many in the audience as evidenced by their sincere round of supportive applause.

ANSEP continues to outdo themselves - all in part to Dr. Herb Schroeder at the helm along with a team of consumate professionals.  It was, indeed, an evening of inspiration, guidance, and opportunity.  ANSEP is now 1,000 strong - and better than ever.