Texas Teachers to Benefit from $35K Gift to McDonald Observatory

29 November 2001

Midland oilman and investor Joe Parsley has given $30,000 to McDonald Observatory to enable West Texas teachers to attend professional development workshops at the Observatory, near Fort Davis.

"I want to get young students interested in science and engineering," Mr. Parsley said. A petroleum engineer, Mr. Parsley is a 1951 graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. Ms. Martha Jan Groebe of Dallas, Mr. Parsley’s daughter, has given an additional $5,000 to the Observatory. Their gifts will help teachers bring the wonders of astronomy back to their West Texas classrooms.

"We’re excited that these gifts will help us promote science education to our neighbors in the communities surrounding the Observatory," said Marc Wetzel, Education Coordinator for McDonald Observatory. "Teachers who come here will be totally immersed in astronomy, staying for two to five days — attending workshops by day and observing the stars at night. We hope to share with them the fun and fascination of science, and that they will pass it on to their students."

Teacher workshops will be given at the Observatory’s new Visitors Center, which will open in early 2002. Workshop leaders will use astronomy-based activities to promote both the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and the National Science Education Standards. The State Board of Educator Certification recently authorized McDonald Observatory to offer continuing education credits to Texas teachers.

The new 12,000-square-foot Visitors Center also includes a large laboratory-style classroom with advanced audio and video capabilities, the $1.1 million interactive "Decoding Starlight" exhibit that explains how astronomers learn the secrets of the heavens, and a 90-seat theater with state-of-the-art audio and video technology. Outside, the Visitors Center includes two large telescopes in 20-foot domes, and a large amphitheater of rock benches where Observatory personnel will offer tours of the constellations under one of the darkest night skies in North America.

In addition, teachers will be able to tour the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (one of the largest telescope in the world) and the Harlan J. Smith 2.7-meter telescope (a large research telescope used every clear night of the year).

Mr. Parsley has been involved with McDonald Observatory for the past several years as a member of the Board of Visitors, an independent philanthropic and lobbying organization which supports the Observatory and UT Austin Department of Astronomy. Members of the Board have created or helped to create the Department’s endowed chairs and professorships and the Observatory’s post-doctoral fellowships. Their efforts and support helped to make both the Hobby-Eberly Telescope and the new McDonald Observatory Visitors Center possible.