Outreach and Education
As an astronomer, I am extraordinarily fortunate to have access to exceptional, publicly funded tools such as the Hubble Space Telescope and Gemini telescopes. These facilities are made possible by the interest and genorosity of U.S. and world citizens, and I believe that the best form of thanks for this generosity is to involve members of the public in the scientific process in an educational and entertaining way.
In my time as a graduate student at The University of Chicago, I have participated in and organized a number of outreach activities with particular focus on the Space Explorers Program. This program is jointly run by the Kavli Institute of Cosmological Physics and The University of Chicago's Upward Bound that connects local, under-represented minority students from the South Side of Chicago with the university research community through a combination of weekly hands-on labs and residential science institutes at the Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.
Now, as a Hubble Fellow at Princeton, I have the distinct pleasure of teaching math courses in State and Federal institutions as part of the Princeton Prison Teaching Initative. The Princeton Prison Teaching initiative is a volunteer run program to provide post-secondary education in New Jersey prisons. With courses in math, natural science, humanities, and social sciences, the Prison Teaching Initiative enables incarcerated students to pursue college credit and degrees, a key step toward reducing incarceration rates.
During the 2011-2012 school year, I worked as the Space Explorers instructor to design and teach a novel course consisting of weekly labs to a group of around 20 students from The University of Chicago's Updward Bound program. The weekly labs focused on performing simple experiments and order-of-magnitude estimates to help the students better understand the world around them on scales ranging from the Universe to local city planning. Two of the labs that I developed for the course were presented at the 2013 National Science Teachers Association conference in San Antonio, Texas.
In addition to the weekly lab course, I worked with other graduate students to organize and teach one 3-day Winter Institute and one week-long Summer Institute at the Yerkes Observatory. Each institute focused on a scientific or engineering theme with day-long labs to drive the concepts home. For example, the 2012 Yerkes Summer Insitute, "Making and Breaking," focused on destructive testing as a tool for understanding stress, strain, and safety devices. During the institute, the students circulated through three different day-long labs (see photo gallery below) in which they used destructive testing results to improve safety features in model cars, buildings, and bridges that they designed from scratch. Without fail, working with the Space Explorers at the Yerkes Winter or Summer Institutes is the highlight of each of my academic years.