Teaching, Outreach, and Diversity
- Instructor of "Foundations of Astronomy", for science major undergraduates (University of Utah).
- The celestial sphere, telescopes, orbital dynamics, comparative planetology, stellar interiors and stellar evolution, galaxies, the early Universe, SETI
- Emphasis on critical reasoning and scientific skeptism
- Incorporation of active learning techniques
- Instructor of "Intro to the Sky and Solar System", for non-science major undergraduates (University of Virginia).
- Research Mentor for high school and undergraduate students (University of Virginia)
- Guest Lecturer for "Introduction to Astronomy Research" (University of Virginia)
Selected Outreach Efforts
Inaugurated in the summer of 2013, the annual Ohio 4-H Astro Camp provides middle school
students with a week of activities focusing on space science themes, including rockets,
astrobiology, black holes, comets, and more. The camp’s approach focuses on hands-on,
investigative activities using simple, easily-obtainable materials, to reinforce the
idea that science is not limited to the classroom but is something accessible to all.
Campers also meet and talk to astronomers, physicists, and engineers from NASA and The Ohio State University. These “real scientists” include both men and women, spanning graduate students to retired technicians, from many different countries, and demonstrate to campers first-hand the true diversity of professional scientists.
Dark Skies Bright Kids!
Dark Skies Bright Kids! is
an after-school program, based at the University of Virginia, aimed at bringing hands-on science activities to
rural elementary schools. These schools enjoy some of the darkest night skies around,
but also often face challenging socioeconomic situations. We seek to help students
take advantage of their (increasingly rare) natural nighttime classroom, and to
encourage curiosity and scientific exploration with fun, interactive activities!
I have been involved since the club's inception in 2009, among other things working to develop activity plans and put together a children's book, to be published soon. The most memorable moments by far, however, are from the interactions with the students (especially where comet mud is involved!).
Public Talks and Events
I have given public talks in a variety of venues, including the historic Leander McCormick Observatory and the amateur astronomer societies of Charlottesville, Richmond, and Washington, DC. I have also been involved in numerous outreach events reaching audiences of all ages and scientific literacy levels. These events always impress me with the breadth of interest in science from people of such a wide range of personal and professional backgrounds!
Diversity in the academic community — diversity of experience and thought, fostered by diversity of race, gender, and socioeconomic upbringing, among others — must be actively promoted to ensure the most effective research and educational outcomes. Efforts to be inclusive towards under-represented populations, along with awareness of the need for diversity and of preconceptions and implicit bias that all humans hold, have an enormous impact on increasing diversity and, consequently, the quality of work produced by the community.
- I was an active member of the Committee on the Participation of Women in SDSS, a group formed by the SDSS leadership to evaluate the climate of the collaboration, especially as pertains to gender, and to provide recommendations for improving the inclusiveness and representation by all collaboration members. Click here for a post I co-authored on the Women in Astronomy blog to describe our work!
- As part of the AstroCamp described above, I invite guests from various NASA and university research centers, spanning a range of age, ethnicity, national origin, and gender, to help lead activities and interact with the students. This has been very successful in exposing the students to the diversity of “real scientists”, and in helping the scientists themselves understand and communicate with young people of very different backgrounds.
- The outreach group I helped found as a graduate student at the University of Virginia (Dark Skies Bright Kids! above) actively targets schools that are minority dominated and/or socioeconomically disadvantaged — that is, those that are traditionally under-served for science education and outreach. The bilingual children’s book being published by that group is a direct result of activities we designed to stimulate interaction between classmates of different ethnic backgrounds.
- I organized department-wide sessions at Johns Hopkins in which educators from the University's LGBT office taught department members about respectful terminology, the needs of the LGBT community, campus experiences, and inclusion in the classroom.