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May 1, 2007 > Alex Zwissler, feet on the ground; head in the heavens

Alex Zwissler, feet on the ground; head in the heavens

By Steve Warga

Last week, the directors of Chabot Science and Space Center in the Oakland hills selected Alexander Zwissler, as the new executive director and CEO. To Zwissler, accepting the position meant coming home after years overseas and subsequently running San Francisco's Ft. Mason Foundation. He grew up in the area, attending Skyline High School close to the Center, and was an avid visitor in his youth.

The new job is also a homecoming in a professional way. After graduating with honors from University of California Berkeley, Zwissler relocated to England as a postgraduate research fellow at the University of Leicester's Center for Mass Communication Research. In that capacity, he conducted research on the development of mass communications satellites. Taking the helm at Chabot Science & Space Center affords him the unique opportunity of revisiting those exciting days of his early professional career.

Anytime he needs a break, Zwissler can stroll to the observation platform adjacent to his office, swing one of the Center's three active telescopes up into the heavens and focus on any of the hundreds of man-made celestial bodies orbiting overhead, many near-cousins to satellites he helped develop in graduate school. With his feet on the ground, he can soar to the heavens; just as he dreamed in his youth.

Only hours into his first day on the job, Zwissler graciously accommodated Tri-City Voice to share a few thoughts with our readers.

TCV: Congratulations on your appointment. What background experience led you to this job that began all of about four hours ago?

Zwissler: I was executive director of the Ft. Mason Foundation in San Francisco for eight years, through 2006. Before that, I spent about twenty years in the telecommunications and cable television fields, developing and installing systems around the world, including three years in the United Kingdom.

I had taken some time off after working with the foundation, then started looking for a new position in the non-profit arena with an enterprise that made a positive contribution to society. The Center certainly does that. When this opportunity arose, it was exactly on point with what I was hoping to find.

Beyond that, this is home! I was born in Germany, but grew up right here in the Oakland hills. I attended John Swett Elementary School, Bret Harte Junior High and Skyline High School before going to Cal [UC Berkeley].

TCV: What are the duties of the executive director and CEO?

Zwissler: My job is to work closely with the board, staff, and the community to assure this institution continues to thrive. And then to take the next step forward. One of the great things about the Center is the strong community support, including contributions from the educational community and our huge cadre of volunteers.

Expanding our capacity for educating students is our overriding objective. Of course, Oakland schools remain our primary obligation in terms of student education and activities, but we are seeing more and more participation from schools in the greater Tri-City area too; and we'd like to see that continue growing.

TCV: What are your priorities for the center?

Zwissler: To be honest, I'm working on those right now. So, I guess figuring out my priorities is my priority right now! The institution's priorities haven't changed though. We will look to expand our programs so we can be ever more relevant in terms of science education to students of all ages. We're very proud of our recently-launched "Kids Go Green" program, which encourages student participation in environmental projects. This is operating through our youth volunteer group, the Galaxy Explorers.

One of the things I'd like to look into is making the Center more accessible to more folks. We need to find new reasons for people to come visit us. We're in an amazing setting, as you can see. So we want to encourage more local residents to actively engage as members or volunteers. We're having conversations with a number of partners to expand that work.

I would like to personally invite all the folks in the greater Tri-City area to come on up and say hello; come along with the kids or grandkids and learn something about this wonderful world around you and how you can positively contribute.

Chabot Science & Space Center
10000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland
Various times; various activities
(510) 336-7300

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