Astronomy Sends Students Out of This World

Colleen Garrison, Copy Editor

Local children are coming to campus to enjoy an evening of star-gazing.

Students from St Nicholas-St Mary’s Catholic Elementary School, Wilkes-Barre, will arrive on campus with their parents and their science teacher, Janice Szczechowicz, thanks to Dr. Michael Orleski, chair of the physics department. The observation is an extension of the astronomy concepts they are learning in 6th, 7th and 8th grade.

This marks the third visit for Szczechowicz and her students.  In fall  2010, she was a faculty member at the since closed Gate of Heaven School in Dallas.

“[Orleski] sent an email to me and mentioned that he had a group of students that would put the telescopes out to view the stars and constellations and, of course, I said I would be interested in bringing students out,” said Szczechowicz.

Orleski said that first observation was spectacular.

“This insanely bright fireball meteor streaked through the sky.  Slowly, it easily took 30 seconds to burn its way across the sky.  It was an intense gold color, gorgeous. So I think that hooked Mrs. Szczechowicz.”

Szczechowicz said the event has been very helpful because the learning is hands-on.

“Dr. Orleski has more knowledge than I do and he has the equipment that we can only talk about in class.”

Orleski will be assisted by 15 students completing an Introduction to Astronomy course which includes service learning components. The students will interact with the visitors answering questions and providing information about astronomy.

“There is a requirement of ten service hours that each student should meet.  But it’s very important that our students get a good experience out of this,” said Orleski.

Danny Wengiel, junior communications major and astronomy student, is looking forward to the event and interacting with the children.

“I love working with kids.  It’s an easy way to give back because they absorb everything.”

Wengiel said  part of his grade depends on the ability to teach others what he learned in class.

“We hope to spark an interest in them so that they get involved as well.”

Wengiel’s interest in astronomy began when he was young. “When I was a little kid, I got an astronomy merit badge in Cub Scouts.”

Orleski said that at the seventh to eighth grade levels, children are often pulled away from an interest in science.

“Providing this opportunity to the children shows them that it’s a science and it’s neat.  It’s something you can do from your backyard with not more than a couple of hundred dollars investment in a telescope.”

The learning is not one-sided.  The service learning students expect to acquire new knowledge from the children.

“There’s obviously stuff that I don’t know so we can share what we each know,” said Wengiel.

Orleski said that these events are always fun.

“It’s a ball of laughs and a great time to do this for the kids.  My students in the Astronomy class generally enjoy it. Janice, her students and their parents always seem to enjoy it so it’s a good time all around.”

Wengiel believes the evening will be a great success.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun and I think we are going to get a good turnout.”

Szczechowicz said the event is great for the entire family.

“Parents and siblings can come along as well and speak with Dr. Orleski or the students and ask questions. Some parents are astronomy hobbyists and they find this very interesting.”

Families form Drums, Bear Creek, White Haven, Pittston and Mountain Top have been invited. Szczechowicz is anticipating 30-50 people from St. Nicholas-St. Mary’s Catholic Elementary School to attend.

In preparation for the event, Orleski coordinated a webinar with Szczechowicz’s classes on Friday, Sept. 26.

“A week before the observation night, I will show them the kind of telescopes they will be looking through. If the kids are interested enough, they will say to their parents ‘Will you please take me to this?’”

Youths aged four through 13 are also welcome to attend with an adult to view Mars, Saturn, the moon and other celestial bodies through four telescopes.   Children of participants in the Ruth Matthews Bourger Women with Children program have also been invited.

Orleski has another evening planned on Friday, Nov. 7 that will be open to the entire campus community, but is suitable for all ages.  By that date, Mars will no longer be visible so that session will concentrate on the moon and constellations.

Last year about 100 people attended from campus alone.

For every observation, Orleski watches the weather forecast very closely.   If it seems as though the clouds will interfere, he will postpone the event.

“Most of the time the forecast is partly cloudy or partly sunny. That doesn’t help so I watch Intellicast like a fiend. The hour-by-hour forecast is eerily accurate.”

The event will take place on Friday, Oct. 3 at 8:00 p.m. in the Anderson Field near Mercy Hall. Cloud dates are scheduled for Oct. 4 and Nov. 8 respectively.

Orleski requests that people call him at 570-674-6231 if they are unsure whether the observation will take place.  There will be a recorded message if the event has to be cancelled or postponed.

Anyone who plans to attend should dress accordingly. Orleski recommends parking in the north lot near the Anderson Building and walking the path to the field. Bleacher seating is available.

Orleski can be reached via email at [email protected] or  in the Hafey-McCormick Science Building, room 123.

[email protected]