This series is part of an effort to showcase the many great employees who contribute to teaching and learning efforts at MVC.
Posted on behalf of Shahnaz Sokhansanj.
What teaching and learning opportunity recently occurred at Mountain View College (MVC)?
The Astrophysics Club took three van loads of students on a field trip to the Three Rivers Foundation (3RF) Observatory in Crowell, Texas. This was a continuation of a club tradition that began more than 15 years ago. The astrophysics club has been active for many years at Mountain View College and has been trying to engage students outside of the classroom by inviting experts in the field of physics and astronomy to campus. We encourage students to research various topics related to physics and astronomy, and to later present their research to the class. We also travel to places such as the Very Large Array telescopes in New Mexico; NASA Mission Control in Houston; Cape Canaveral in Florida; the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas; the meteor crater in Odessa, Texas; and the Three Rivers Foundation in northwest Texas. We have done each of these trips a few times. We also have monthly star parties on campus for students, MVC employees, and their families, and for the community as well.
What about this topic are you most excited about?
Physics and astronomy open the door to the beauty and order of the universe. They also can make science come alive, so that anyone can enjoy it. Science is often misunderstood by the public and is rarely as appreciated as, for example, music or the performing arts. So astronomy is a form of science that people can “relate” to and connect with, and that is what is most exciting to me as a teacher. Physics and astronomy touch upon the great mysteries of the universe. Does the universe have a beginning and an end? Why do human beings exist? We all want to know where we come from and where we are destined to go. We want to learn about the smallest particle (or string in case of string theory) in this world as much as we want to know what may lie at the edge of the universe. In sum, physics and astronomy help us understand who we are—morally, mentally and physically.
Why is this topic so important to everyone at MVC?
Astronomy is inherently appealing to almost everyone, both within the MVC community and outside of it, from young children to older adults. Its appeal to a wide range of people is shown by its millenia-old history in cultures from around the world. Aside from that, there are legions of dedicated amateur astronomers of all ages, from many professions, ethnic groups and genders. Astronomy brings everyone together and creates a common bond among all these people, and also creates a bond from each of these people to science itself.
What did participants learn or take away from this experience?
Because the conditions for sky observation during this trip were less than ideal, the students had to be patient and resourceful. These are traits that are absolutely necessary for any scientist and for many engineers as well. We were able to do many indoor activities, and also were able to watch the sky whenever there was a break in the weather. We were able to see the Milky Way stretched across the sky full of stars in the middle of the night, while coyotes were making noise a short distance away, probably fighting over scant prey. We visited and learned about a variety of telescopes on the 3RF campus. The trip allowed students to learn how to cope with other people in close quarters while having fun and learning at the same time. They also were able to experience a very rural area far from the urban environs of Dallas, which expanded their educational and social horizons.
What is some of the feedback you received regarding this event?
The students were very appreciative of this opportunity. They mentioned that the trip was unforgettable to them, not only from an educational standpoint. While this field trip allowed them to have fun with a group of their peers and classmates, it was also a spiritually enriching experience, as it allowed them to see all the beauty of the sky above us.
If people would like to learn more about this topic, where would you point them towards?
There are many web sites available on the field of astronomy. For example:
There are very good documentary or films on science-themed channels such as Nova and National Geographic and many others. The resources above are only a few among many. While there are many astronomy-oriented web sites, please be sure to avoid the astrology sites, because that is not what we would consider astronomy.