The Message of Starlight
I love to learn and consider myself a lifelong learner. My original degrees are in Biology and Botany, but my first love of Astronomy began at the age of 5 when I first saw the Milky Way from the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Growing up in the wilds of New York City brought me to learn at the Hayden Planetarium in as many "Astronomy for Young People" courses as my parents would allow.
I have been teaching a one semester Astronomy course for high school students since the Fall of 2004. From the beginning, I have sought professional development opportunities to extend and update my knowledge and authentic research experiences that I could turn into investigations for my students.
I was fortunate to be selected for The Age of the Milky Way workshop the summer after I had worked on the ARBSE program through Kitt Peak National Observatory. The summer of 2008 had brought me to Kitt Peak. The night I was supposed to be rotating through and collecting our data for the Open Cluster project found us immersed in a major electrical storm that closed down the 0.9-meter telescope.
Undeterred, I saw a similar, shorter program at McDonald Observatory posted for the Summer of 2009. Since West Texas is closer to Oklahoma than Arizona, I decided that this was the place to be. The drive takes me 10 hours from Norman, but I have learned to love each part of the way, know where to stop and stretch and when I see the Davis Mountains rise up, I really get excited. I enjoyed the drive through the Davis Mountains as much to see the biology of the area. It is lovely.
We had perfect skies during the three nights and four days of that workshop, and I think the group of us closed down the telescopes each night of our stay there. The message of starlight and dark skies is magical, and once you have experienced it you are rarely satisfied with any less.
The other wonderful part is that I was able to connect with a group of teachers and UT Astronomers with similar interests and hopes for their students. We continue our conversations and sharing via e-mails and Facebook. We also became friends. I am always humbled when the Longhorns are willing to share their skies with this Sooner.
Other workshops (MONET in 2010; The Hubble Universe in 2012; and Texas EXES with Dr. Chris Sneeden and sharing his quest to study halo stars in 2013) have been outstanding (even thought it rained for the entire MONET workshop). Getting to have eyeball-to-eyepiece views on all of the scopes has been impressive. M 13 on the 2.1-meter Otto Struve Telescope was just amazing, but my favorite scope is the 0.9-meter because it is the most hands-on for the teachers.
Getting to meet and learn from folks such as Drs. Mary Kay Hemenway, Kurtis Williams, Rick Hesseman, Keely & Steve Finklestein, Kyle Fricke, Jody Harkrider, Judy Stanton Meyer, Marc Wetzel, and all the research astronomers who have shared their experiences and what they were learning has been exciting and stimulating. They practice what they preach!
I look forward to more experiences in the dark skies of West Texas whenever I can come down. The true beneficiaries are my own students and my three sons who are amazed that I have so much enthusiasm for what I teach. While I haven't been able to field trip my students down to West Texas, I can take them to the dark skies of the Oklahoma Panhandle during the Okie-Tex Star Party each Fall.
Learning more about Astronomy and our Universe is very special when it is hands-on, but nothing prepares you for the aesthetics and emotional side of the magic of starlight! Thanks for the memories and learning to share with others! Here's to the future! Happy 75th Anniversary!