National Science Foundation Supports Undergraduate Science, Astronomy
Herbst, John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy and chair of the
Astronomy Department, has received a $330,990 grant from the National
Science Foundation (NSF) that will benefit Wesleyan and the seven other
elite liberal arts member institutions in the Keck Northeast Astronomy
Along with Wesleyan, the other KNAC institutions covered by the funding are
Colgate University, Haverford College, Middlebury College, Swarthmore
College Vassar College, Wellesley College and Williams College. The funding
allows the schools in the consortium to continue their summer research
program for undergraduates, which has been in existence for 17 years.
"Since this program began almost two decades ago, we have provided
approximately 175 summer research experiences for our students,” Herbst,
says. “The program has been very successful in engaging students with
astronomical research and sparking long-term interest in science. In fact,
nearly half of these students have gone on to graduate school and most are
pursuing science-oriented careers.
Herbst adds that, since the program was begun, nearly half of the KNAC
students have been female.
“We’re also seeking to include more students from underrepresented
minorities, and from schools in the northeast where participation in
astronomy research is not possible," he says.
The 10-week summer research program sponsored by KNAC and the NSF grant
provides opportunities for 12 students to work at a KNAC institution.
However, to promote educational diversity, students from consortium schools
cannot do research at their own institutions during the 10-week program. The
program also reserves two to four spaces each year for students from
institutions outside the consortium.
“The idea is to provide more real research opportunities to students and
expand their astronomy education at all levels while also increasing
collegial interactions among faculty and students,” Herbst says.
In the fall, all the KNAC faculty, mentors and participating students,
including those who have been accepted to the program but have not yet begun
research, are invited to a Student Symposium. KNAC-supported students from
the summer give a 10-minute presentation on their research. There are also
presentations by invited speakers, a poster session and a publication of the
proceedings, which are distributed throughout the astronomical community.
“We’re very excited to receive this grant, which is vital to KNAC,” Herbst
says. “KNAC has evolved into a great model for other small college astronomy
departments of how a regional consortium can be created and managed to
successfully address the issues of size and limited resources.”
By David Pesci, director of Media Relations.
Photo by Bill Burkhart.