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From Marymount to Space

Barbara Ragan Wood, M.B.A. ’90

When Barbara Ragan Wood wrote her master’s thesis, “Gaining Popular Support for the Commercial Development of Space through Promotion and Public Relations,” she had no idea just how much it would change her life. Barbara’s career had been focused on finance; during her time at Marymount, she was the regional finance director for Coldwell Banker Residential Affiliates’ northeast region. In that role, she developed a franchisee training program and worked closely with real estate sales trainers based at the company’s regional headquarters. Barbara’s passion seemed to be finance. But when it came time to write her thesis, she thought about an experience she’d had in sixth grade.
Barbara Ragan Wood, M.B.A. ’90, and husband Peter

That year, Barbara was assigned the task of delivering a presentation to her classmates. Because of her love of Tom Swift and other sci-fi novels, she chose extraterrestrial visitation as her topic. So began a lifelong interest in space. Fast-forward to 1990, when Barbara attended a space conference in Gaithersburg, Maryland. She had long ago moved beyond the Star Trek and Star Wars ideas of space and was developing an interest in real-world applications of space technology. At the conference, Barbara met Peter Wood, Ph.D., a former Booz Allen Hamilton executive and the founding donor of the International Space University (ISU) in Strasbourg, France. She asked Peter to be her thesis advisor, but he became much more. Eventually, Barbara received an A on her thesis, plus a marriage proposal! She and Peter were married and began working together on their shared passion: space.

Back in 1986, Peter had been approached by three young men, graduate students at Harvard and MIT, with a concept for a space university. Excited by their idea, he became the founding donor of the International Space University, and a member of the small group of industry and academic leaders who supported the effort. By the early 1990s, ISU’s founders began a world competition to determine which city would become the space university’s permanent host. The city had to commit to building a $30 million initial campus. Strasbourg was eventually chosen as ISU’s host city.

When Barbara and Peter got married, Peter was serving on ISU’s Board of Directors. Barbara was intrigued by the ISU concept which, at the time, was largely unknown. She has accompanied Peter on every step of ISU’s journey, attending board meetings amd conferences, giving lectures, and always looking for more benefits of space technology. Today, ISU is known worldwide, and Peter is a member of its Board of Advisors, which also includes the head of NASA and the head of the European Space Agency. Barbara and Peter explain that students at ISU come from many fields – from biologists interested in experiments at zero gravity to lawyers interested in intellectual property rights in space!

Barbara and Peter’s goal is to educate the general public about the opportunities that space offers for a better lifestyle and better investments. Their vision is to see important leadership positions in space organizations and companies filled by ISU graduates.

Barbara recalls that she and Peter were once asked, “Why should I be interested in space? It doesn’t have anything to do with my life.” They asked the questioner if she liked to know what the weather was going to be; the individual replied, “I can just turn on my TV to find that out.” They pointed out that the information she heard on television was provided by a space satellite!

Thanks to everyday conveniences like global positioning systems, meteorology reports, and satellite radio and television, it is becoming more apparent to the average consumer that space technology provides many benefits. A person’s iPod and cell phone are two great examples. Barbara explains, “Miniaturization came about because the space program found that weight and volume are extremely critical factors in launching a spaceship. Both cell phones and iPods have made use of highly integrated chips from space technology that can carry out many functions while taking up very little room. Perhaps the most obvious example of technology benefiting from miniaturization is computers. Laptops now have capabilities that previously took an entire room-sized computer to accomplish.”

She continues, “Surgical tools that have been developed to perform non-invasive surgery also came from the space program. Communication technology depends on satellites; because of our use of space, we can exchange telephone calls with people in the most remote parts of the globe. We can set up a virtual classroom in a jungle on the other side of the world using a satellite receiver. We also use remote-sensing satellites to predict natural disasters and track hurricanes.”

She sums it all up: “The more we use space technology, the more new ways we find to take advantage of its benefits.”

In their “spare time,” Peter serves on the International Editorial Board of Space Policy magazine, and Barbara and Peter travel to the annual International Astronautical Federation (IAF) Conference. Together, they served for eleven years on the IAF’s Space Education Committee, with Barbara heading the organization’s Education Gold Medal Selection Committee for four years. They also were active participants in the Japan-U.S. Science and Technology & Space Applications Program (JUSTSAP). They served on JUSTSAP’s Disaster Management Committee, focusing on employment of space assets in dealing with major disasters.

A few years ago, Barbara decided to learn to fly, and she now has a student pilot’s license. Peter, who has been flying since age 14, holds a commercial license. They are avid travelers who believe that the best way to get an education is by experiencing different cultures. Both are members of the Travelers’ Century Club, having visited over 100 countries and all seven continents.

Barbara credits her Marymount education as a key factor in her success. She used what she learned in the University’s M.B.A. program to assume an informal financial advisory role for ISU. Barbara says that Marymount helped her “focus on the practicality of space projects, promotion of space, and its benefits to the public.” Especially beneficial was the emphasis on the public-affairs side of business. Barbara is grateful that she chose to attend Marymount and notes that the instructors and students at the University are “fantastic.” In fact, she recently recommended MU to her granddaughter!