President's Letter

Original article appears in GuideStar June, 2017.

by Rene S Gedaly

Remarks made at the 2017 TSP awards

The Texas Star Party Omega Centauri Award is all about Outreach—and Outreach is fun.

I'm not so sure that's how most of us first think about Outreach. It wouldn't be so hard to get folks to volunteer if it were.

Scary. Scary's more like it.

See if you can relate: 

  • What if I can't find something to show the public in the urban sky? Between the clouds, and clouds, we know, are inevitable. 
  • What if I can't answer a question? We're the experts, after all.
  • And it's one thing to wrangle a telescope in the privacy of one's own backyard. Quite another to do so in public.

Our Omega Centauri candidate has been changing those attitudes.

Before he became the new Outreach Guy at HAS, he had benefitted from the experience of the previous Outreach Chairperson, Bram Weisman. Our candidate valued how Outreach had helped him develop as an astronomer. And when Bram rotated off, he did not want that to end. 

We've had some pretty amazing outreach events over the years. The school science nights and STEM events are part of it. So are youth groups and camps for special populations, star parties at museums and planetariums and arboretums and theaters.

Then there are the events off the beaten path.

  • A star party at a Community Garden for those more used to Looking Down and digging in the earth. They asked us to help them Look Up.
  • A star party on the grounds of the Texas Renaissance Fair for a music festival.
  • And a favorite event. A star party in Downtown Houston on top of the Raven Tower Bar. Yeah, wish I'd gotten to that one.

But these fun events are not the only reason the candidate was considered. 

It's because he found he could help overcome the natural fears of the budding astronomer while getting them much needed time out under the sky at the same time. Paired with more experienced volunteers, we do have novice astronomers come out and help. And they have fun doing it.

He knew firsthand that Outreach helps us learn. Outreach is not only a way to share our hobby, it's also a way to learn about our hobby—right along with the public. Close to home, in good enough weather.

I'm Rene Gedaly and it is my distinct honor as President of the Houston Astronomical Society to present the 2017 Omega Centauri Award to Joe Khalaf.

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