Personal Philosophy

In my life and career it has become clear that the advancement of our society requires the training of a technically proficient population. Members of such a population will almost certainly have to be exposed to one of the science, technology, engineering, or mathematics areas of study (STEM). Ultimately, it is desirable to entrain students in STEM areas of study such that they continue in these areas professionally. Due to its accessibility and ability to capture the public's interest, astronomy is an excellent vehicle to build student interest in a variety of scientific topics and potentially propel students towards STEM careers. Through the study of astronomy (especially at the undergraduate and graduate levels) one may gain a host of useful technical skills that can then be applied in a variety of career paths. To ensure students' STEM education goes towards further extending society's technical knowledge base, it is important to have these students continue in STEM career paths (whether it be in academia or the private sector). Thus, to generate a technically trained population it is necessary to recruit youth into STEM and to prevent attrition from these areas of study throughout a student's academic career.

I began addressing such concerns when I spent half of my graduate student tenure at UC Los Angeles as one of two co-managers of the UCLA Astronomy outreach engine, the UCLA Planetarium and Telescopes. Through Planetarium night-sky shows, special topic lectures (my favorite being "Life in the Universe"), and public telescope viewings (e.g., the 2006 Mercury Transit - an event I co-coordinated and ran) I was able to impact upon numerous young minds and was astounded at how successfully these students connected to the astronomical topics we discussed. These activities brought science to a level that made students of all ages comfortable in thinking about it and discussing it, perhaps opening the door for some students who may have never previously considered a STEM career path. As an NSF postdoctoral fellow at UC San Diego I have worked on retention of STEM college students through mentoring high school, undergraduate, and graduate students and through the design and implementation of an astrophysics laboratory course. Laboratory courses encourage continuation in STEM, if not in the particular area of study covered by the course (e.g., see Walden & Foor 2008, Journal of Engineering Education 97, 2). UCSD has not previously offered an astronomy based laboratory course, and certainly not at the level of advanced undergraduates and first/second-year graduate students. It is my hope that this laboratory option helps to retain outbound undergraduate students in Physics and Engineering and provides another research venue for Physics graduate students who are still undecided on what their specialty will be.