A La Jolla High School teacher has been selected as one of California's five semifinalists to fly on a 1986 space shuttle mission as the first private citizen in space.
Gloria McMillan, 40, an English and humanities teacher, said she is "thrilled" to have made the first cut from 950 to 5 applicants, but realizes she has a long way to go before she orbits the Earth.
The state's two finalists will be announced April 26, and their names will be submitted to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which will choose a teacher from 120 national finalists in September.
"I'm thrilled. I'm so excited. I had the wide-awakes this morning at 4 a.m., which is good, I guess, because I got up and graded some papers I had not quite completed over the Easter holiday," McMillan said.
"I had approached the application very seriously. I put a lot of thought and energy into it," she said.
McMillan said she was informed Sunday that she had been picked as a semifinalist.
Applicants had to write eight essays describing, among other things, their professional development, teaching philosophy, community involvement and why they wanted to be the first private citizen in space. They also had to submit three letters of recommendation and design a space project.
McMillan said her proposed project was "to turn the teacher-in-space program into a student-centered program, to let the students design experiments for the teacher." She said she would like to select projects from among those proposed by students and then carry them out while hooked up by telephone to the classroom.
"This would involve students from the inception," she said.
McMillan said she has been interested in space programs since the Soviet Sputnik satellite was launched in 1957, when she was a ninth-grade bulletin board monitor clipping newspaper articles about the space trip.
The space program "is the epitome of man's questing spirit. It is the epitome of intellectual achievement, curiosity, tenacity," she said.
The other four teachers selected were: William Dillon, a science, math and industrial arts teacher at Peninsula High School in San Bruno; Robert Payton, a physical science teacher at Enterprise High School in Redding; E. Jay Schaeffer, an English teacher at Belmont High School in Los Angeles, and Paula Walling, a kindergarten-first grade teacher at Captain Cooper School in Big Sur.
McMillan, who is married and the mother of two sons, ages 18 and 21, is a native of St. Clair Shores, Mich. She has lived in San Diego since 1965, and has taught at Clairemont High School, Mission Bay High School, and, for the last 1 1/2 years, at La Jolla.
The semifinalists were chosen by a committee of four state education consultants, a PTA state representative, the 1985 teacher of the year, a private school representative and the student member of the state school board.
One of those committee members will visit McMillan's classroom for an evaluation on Wednesday. She also must undergo a medical examination and a two-day interview with the panel members.
McMillan said she is "philosophical" about the outcome of the competition.
"I would love to do this. It would be a dream come true. However, I know the talent of the people I am competing against is enormous. They will select the person who will do the very best job. I would like it to be me. If not, I'll accept that," she said.