Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Career Profile: Astronomer to Anthropometry Engineer

The AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy is compiling interviews highlighting the diversity of career trajectories available to astronomers. The interviews share advice and lessons learned from individuals on those paths.

Below is our interview with Liliana Keats. Liliana was born in Mexico City and immigrated to the United States when she was almost 10 years old. She was the first person in her family to graduate from a 4-year institution and the only one to hold an advanced degree. She earned a BA in Astrophysics from UC Berkeley and a MS in Physics from SFSU. Her astronomy research experience includes discovering new and unforeseen characteristics of Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes coming off the Earth’s surface (published in Science, 2005) and discovering over two dozen binary candidates in one of the closest globular clusters to Earth, NCG 6397. One of her most rewarding professional experiences was teaching high school physics and physiology for a low-income, predominantly African-American and Latina all-female student body in San Francisco for 3 years. Leveraging her analytical training, teaching experience and moving forward with a driven sense of adventure, she made a career change and is now an applied anthropometry engineer, contributing to design products that fit a diverse demographic on a global scale. She lives in California with her loving and supportive husband, Jason Keats and their 13-year old Pit-Lab mix puppy.

To access our previous Career Profiles, please go to

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Meet Your CSWA, Tiffany Wolbrecht

Tiffany is the Planetarium Lecturer at Youngstown State University’s Ward Beecher Planetarium where she coordinates and leads programming. In 2018, Tiffany was selected for the Astronomy in Chile Educator’s Ambassadors Program, or ACEAP, and traveled to Chile touring NSF-supported astronomy facilities and receiving extensive training about the observatories and their telescopes, instruments, science, and data. Tiffany currently serves on the leadership team for an NSF-funded project developing a planetarium show about astronomy in Chile along with web-based and hands-on resources.

Passionate about science education and outreach, Tiffany discovered her love for planetariums at the Edinboro University Planetarium where she worked while obtaining her Master’s of Education in Secondary Instruction. She previously earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Physics at Penn State University, The Behrend College, where she conducted research on exoplanets using emerging data from NASA’s Kepler mission. This is Tiffany’s 1st term on the CSWA.

Describe the first time you made a personal connection with the planets and stars.

Hurricane Katrina hit my hometown just a couple of weeks into the school year when I happened to be taking my first astronomy class. The power remained off in my neighborhood for over a month and I spent many of those nights on the hood of my car gazing up at an unpolluted night sky, counting meteors and marveling at the bright Milky Way stretching over my front yard. I used a flashlight (no it wasn’t red; I knew nothing!) to study the sky chart on the back cover of my astronomy textbook and found constellations, stars, and Messier objects. While that was a very difficult time for my family and community, I also remember it as a time I found solace in exploring the night sky.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Cross-Post: Task Force Recommendations Outline Changes Needed to Increase African American Physics and Astronomy Students

Gathering of African American women physicists; Credit: Jami Valentine Miller

There have been fewer than 100 PhDs in physics granted to African-American women as tracked by the AAWIP. Such depressing statistics require that physics and astronomy communities work to understand and change systemic barriers to African Americans succeeding in these fields. The National Task Force to Elevate African American representation in Undergraduate Physics & Astronomy (TEAM-UP) is working towards this goal and below we cross-post their January 5th press release made at the American Astronomical Society meeting.

Press Release:

WASHINGTON, January 5, 2020 -- Due to long-term and systemic issues leading to the consistent exclusion of African Americans in physics and astronomy, a task force is recommending sweeping changes and calling for awareness into the number and experiences of African American students studying the fields.

The National Task Force to Elevate African American representation in Undergraduate Physics & Astronomy, known as TEAM-UP, was chartered and funded by the American Institute of Physics to examine the persistent underrepresentation of African Americans in physics and astronomy in the U.S.

Report Summary Download
Full Summary Download

In its report, “The Time Is Now: Systemic Changes to Increase African Americans with Bachelor’s Degrees in Physics and Astronomy,” the task force discusses the five factors it discovered as responsible for the success or failure of African American students in physics and astronomy: belonging, physics identity, academic support, personal support, and leadership and structures. The report was released on Jan. 5 at the 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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Thursday, January 2, 2020

A Lack of Women in Amateur Astronomy in the US

By Rachel Freed

Rachel Freed is a co-founder and the President of the Institute for Student Astronomical Research (InStAR), as well as a seminar instructor, with a mission to incorporate true scientific research into secondary and undergraduate education. She helps to coordinate international conferences around the use of telescopes in education and is currently working on a PhD in astronomy education. She is also a faculty lecturer in the School of Education at Sonoma State University. She has a B.S. degree in Biology from UC Davis and an M.S. in Neuroscience from Northwestern University, where she studied neural transmission using confocal microscopy and electrophysiology.
Rachel taught high school chemistry and astronomy for 10 years and has conducted research on chemistry education, helping to design, build and evaluate an online formative assessment system for high school chemistry. She is involved in curriculum design and implementation and trains educators in the use of technology and remote telescopes for research. She has been an amateur astronomer for 20 years and is involved in public outreach. She is a public speaker with a focus on bringing telescopes to students around the globe as well as promoting changes in education that build on a child’s intrinsic motivations and interests.

I have been an amateur astronomer for 19 years and a member of five different astronomy clubs throughout the San Francisco Bay Area in California during this time. I also get to work in the arena of public astronomy and do a lot of education and outreach. For these almost 20 years I’ve been hearing the amateur astronomers say amongst themselves “we need to diversify, we need younger people, we need people of color.” And for 19 years it hasn’t changed much from what I am seeing. While there has definitely been an increase in women in professional astronomy, it’s still nothing close to 50-50 and over the last four or five years, there has been a lot of news about sexual harassment in the field. While I don’t know if this is a significant part of the problem in the world of amateur astronomy, there are certainly many subtle and not-so-subtle issues that contribute to this lack of diversity.