Students Become Stars in the Classroom

  • http-blogs-fandm-edu-wp-content-blogs-dir-29-files-2012-04-marie-jpg Kara Loveland ’12 and Laura Perkowski ’11 at McCaskey High School display a real-time image captured by a telescope in Bathurst, Australia.  

For Andrea Lommen, associate professor of astronomy, mentorship is the key to accomplishment. “The reason that I’m a successful astrophysicist is because of the mentors and the mentoring experiences that I had. It is the reason I get to do what I do,” she says.

Thanks to a $650,000 National Science Foundation Career Award she received in 2008, Lommen has been able to create and foster new mentoring relationships between Franklin & Marshall students and students at nearby McCaskey High School.

“My mentoring experiences were very important to me, and I asked myself how we can create a program based on a web of mentoring experiences like that,” Lommen said. “I wanted my undergraduates not just to be taught, but also to teach.”

Today, Lommen’s students bring lessons and the latest technology to high school physics classes as part of the new Mid-Atlantic Relativistic Initiative in Education (MARIE) program. Lommen believes that the nearness in age between the students is a key component of the program’s success.

“The students working with me are only two, three years older than the high school students and that is wonderful,” Lommen said. “You see these people who are just a little ahead of you, and you realize they are the kind of people you could be and that you could get there. So I think that they’re very obvious role models for these kids who can easily look up to them and emulate them.”

The highlight of the program was when the McCaskey students had the opportunity to view the Australian night sky in real time via remote telescope. Through an arrangement with Charles Sturt University, the MARIE program sends Franklin & Marshall students to Bathurst, Australia, where they facilitate this stellar chance to view the other side of the world. This year, Laura Perkowski ’11 and Claire Gilpin ’11 were able to make the trip down under, sharing their passion for science with students overseas.

With the help of Skype calls and instant messaging, students in Lancaster were able to view specific wonders of the universe over Australia on demand. Of course, the facilitators in Australia had to be up in the middle of the night to make this happen. Students viewed Jupiter and its moons, Saturn, M83 (a beautiful spiral galaxy), Etacarinae and the Jewel Box Nebulae, among other celestial objects.

Perkowski offers a hopeful assessment of the program’s potential reach: “If I can convince one student to apply to college who didn’t before, or convince one student to try a new class, hopefully astronomy, or even just broaden their horizons a little, it will be a success. I would love to see this program expand to the elementary and middle schools, and cannot wait to see what happens next. My ultimate goal for this program would be for one of the students who was in one of the MARIE classes to come to F&M and do outreach on their own as part of MARIE.”

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