Lowell Observatory’s Deidre Hunter Wins Prestigious Education Prize

Deidre Hunter, longtime astronomer at Lowell Observatory, has been chosen as the 2014 recipient of the American Astronomical Society’s (AAS) Education Prize.

The AAS awards this prize annually “to recognize outstanding contributions to the education of the public, students and/or the next generation of professional astronomers.”  Hunter was chosen “for co-founding and successfully running for the last 17 years a science and astronomy education program for 5th-8th grade Navajo-Hopi students and their teachers (of Arizona, and New Mexico), a historically underserved and culturally isolated population.”

Hunter, who in addition to her duties as an astronomer serves as Lowell’s Deputy Director for Science, has worked at Lowell since 1986, primarily studying the nature and behavior of tiny irregular galaxies.  Not content to simply carry out research, Hunter has long been a proponent of education and in 1996 founded the Lowell Observatory Navajo-Hopi Astronomy Outreach program —with colleague Amanda Bosh— to reach underserved Native communities.

Hunter lists the specific goals of this program as twofold:  to help teachers get Navajo and Hopi children excited about astronomy and to help teachers of Navajo and Hopi students learn about astronomy and astronomy activities so that they will be better able to incorporate astronomy in their classrooms

Hunter responded to news of the award, “I’m stunned.  There are many people working very hard at astronomy education and people doing incredibly innovative things. This is just one program. But those of us carrying out this program appreciate the encouragement this award means.”

She added, “Over the past 17 years 21 astronomers and about 75 teachers have partnered under the Lowell Observatory Navajo-Hopi Astronomy Outreach Program. Many other people at Lowell have helped with the teacher workshops. These people make this program what it is.”

The AAS was founded in 1899 and is the major professional organization in North America for astronomers.  It has granted a prize for education since 1992, when Carl Sagan won the inaugural award.

Lowell director Jeff Hall said, “I’m delighted the American Astronomical Society has given Deidre the honor of one of its major annual prizes, and appreciate the Society’s recognition of her many years of effort designing, seeking funding for, and carrying out an outreach program that has gained renown nationwide.  She’s an inspiring science educator, and I look forward to seeing the program continue to thrive in years to come.”

The AAS also awarded former Lowell research associate Emily Levesque with the Annie Jump Cannon Award, given to an outstanding female astronomer within five years of receiving her Ph.D.

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