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November 28, 2018
Authentic: Karen Schwarz
Astronomer Dr. Karen Schwarz loves expanding people’s horizons. As an associate professor at West Chester University and director of the Sandra F. Pritchard Mather Planetarium, Schwarz is helping people of all ages to understand more about the fascinating worlds beyond our planet. Thousands of people enjoy immersive films, live shows, and varied educational presentations under the 360-degree dome every year. Schwarz is eager to share this unique resource with the community.
Schwarz’s own horizons were expanded when she took an aptitude test in middle school that suggested “astronomer” as a possible profession. “I didn’t know that was a job,” she says, “but it sounded cool.” She studied and began her career under the clear, dark night skies of New Mexico and Arizona before coming to West Chester. Although she still loves observing stars through a telescope on a mountaintop and continuing her research on interacting binary stars, she also enjoys her expanded and varied teaching roles. Her current research focuses on exploring the best ways to teach science to different audiences and tying classroom education to learning in informal settings.
An avid runner with her feet firmly on terra firma, Schwarz is refreshingly down to earth. It can be difficult, she knows, to visualize something from two perspectives. “Being inside the dome is like being part of a giant model,” she says, and she often uses hands-on 3D models, like a giant protractor her husband built, to help students understand baffling concepts like lunar phases.
In addition to working with school groups at the planetarium, Schwarz is the director of Project ASTRO WCU—a national program that pairs astronomers with classroom teachers. She’s also passionate about encouraging girls to pursue STEM careers. The annual Super Science Saturday offers middle- and high-school girls opportunities to participate in workshops and interact with female scientists. “I really want to encourage girls with promise who might be afraid to pursue science,” she says.
Schwarz extends an open invitation to the community to explore the planetarium’s public outreach programs at http://wcupa.edu/planetarium.