Hector is a Physics major who is interested in public outreach and astronomy education research which may lead to a possible teaching career. This past summer, Hector had the opportunity to work as a Camp Counselor at the University of Arizona’s Astronomy Camp, as part of the CAMPARE program, engaging groups of students into the wonders of the cosmos using several different telescopes. In addition, Hector conducted research with Dr. Edward Prather and Gina Brissenden from the University of Arizona examining the students’ understanding of astronomy course material. This is his story.
During the first half of the past summer, I was privileged to work with Camp Director Don McCarthy from the University of Arizona where we spent approximately a month up on Kitt Peak Observatory for three different camps. As a Camp Counselor, my primary focus was the engagement of the students through the different daily activities and, of course, making this camp a memorable experience for the campers as well as making astronomy fun!!! Although astronomy has always been of an interest to me, Don taught me the ways of an astronomer, from reading a sky map and locating objects in the night sky to the operation and use of the telescope. This was extremely beneficial in order to explain key concepts to the students. The second half of the summer, I worked with Dr. Edward Prather and Gina Brissenden on a project that involved analyzing the answers to questions in astronomy lecture tutorials. Based on a specific rubric, questions throughout the tutorial were graded on a scale for the coherency and correctness of the answer provided by the student. This data would then be processed and compared to questions on exams that were related to the questions in the tutorial, to determine if there are correlations between the two.
During the astronomy camps, we made several discoveries such as the spectral classification of a supernova and the amount of light pollution that surrounds Kitt Peak. However, I made my own discovery when I realized how enthusiastic I am about outreach and education research. Before I left to Arizona, I had a minimal idea of what it would be like to witness students get involved in projects such as “build your own solar system” and to see the students work together applying what they learned about astronomy. As I reflect back to those long nights accompanied by a cup of hot chocolate or coffee, I realized that I made a difference in their lives and that I helped “plant a seed” in their minds that can grow to a possible career in astronomy/physics. That is the best incentive that I received from my experience this past summer.
While in Arizona, Steven Jasso, Hector Saldivar and myself made sure to see as much of what Tucson and the University of Arizona could offer. We made trips to the Desert Museum, Triton Missile Museum, the Old Tucson Studios and probably the most impressive thing we saw, the Mirror Lab at the University. Dr. John Bieging took us on a tour of the Mirror Lab, where within we saw the entire process of creating an astronomical mirror. We saw them constructing the mold for a new mirror, the cleaning off of a mold of a previously made mirror, the polishing taking place on the first mirror to be constructed for the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) and finally a mirror being tested in the laser interferometer mirror testing structure. Truly an amazing opportunity to see such precise work being done, it really made us appreciate what went in to the instruments we were using to collect our data.