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C of I professors win grant for astronomy outreach

On August 21, Idaho residents and visitors will have a front-row seat for a unique phenomenon—a full solar eclipse. In anticipation of the once-in-a-lifetime event, the C of I’s Whittenberger Planetarium is holding a series of special programs leading up to the big day.

One such event was Astronomy Day, held April 22 for the Caldwell and Treasure Valley communities. Astronomy Day featured science- and math-themed activities, including solar viewing, engaging in chemistry demonstrations, and building pinhole projectors to help guests safely view the eclipse.

“This is a unique eclipse in that we will have complete totality,” said Amy Truksa, director of the Whittenberger Planetarium. “Once the moon completely covers the sun, it will be safe for people to look at.”

To help support Astronomy Day and other eclipse-related programming, Truksa and physics professor Dr. Katie Devine applied for and received the Julena Steinheider Duncombe Mini-Grant, which totaled $1,390. The grant helped make the events free and open to families, which Devine hopes will help expose children from underrepresented minority and socioeconomic groups to STEM fields.

“The goal is to try and get the crowds of people at eclipse shows to look a little bit more like the Caldwell community,” Devine said. “We are better scientists if we have more diverse voices.”

Earlier this spring, Devine also attended Congressional Visits Day in Washington D.C., sponsored by the American Astronomical Society. The event focused on communicating to congressional representatives the importance of federal funding for STEM research.

While in the nation’s capital, Devine and her peers met with congressmen and women as well as former senate staffers, who instructed the scientists on how to advocate for federal funding.

“The purpose [of Congressional Visits Day] is to educate our representatives on how federal funding impacts their districts,” Devine said. “We want to remind them that a lot of students go into STEM research. We aren’t just training astronomers—we’re educating future researchers in many fields.”

The College of Idaho has a 125-year-old legacy of excellence. The C of I is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, four NFL players and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom.  For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.