Open letter to the OAD

by Maya Barlev, March 19th, 2013

I began working at the OAD in early January 2013, after meeting Kevin and seeing the office for the first time in late December. Over the course of my three months with the office, the OAD guided me not just practically, but also mentored me on a much deeper level. As someone who is working to apply my passions in astronomy to making a positive impact on the world, I have been so grateful for the time and assistance the OAD has dedicated to my personal development.

I’m currently traveling to multiple countries to learn how children think about and are learning astronomy both in academic and non-­‐academic contexts, as funded by the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship in the United States. While the OAD doesn’t work directly with children, their network provided me with contacts and support to make my project realizable and their mission statement and philosophy supplied me with inspiration and ideas to make my project meaningful.

With the help of the SAAO Education and Outreach team, the OAD facilitated my research on a practical level around Cape Town. I joined the SAAO on several local school visits, and also had the opportunity to visit the Cape Town Science Centre and the Cape Town Planetarium. Each of these experiences enriched my project greatly and taught me how children from a plurality of backgrounds were engaging with astronomy.

When not working with kids directly, the OAD gave me structure to make my time here productive. In addition to providing me with a desk space and computer at the office, we brainstormed a project that would both be both helpful to my work and to the OAD. In this project, I compiled a resource packet of astronomy materials that allows any educator to access information on astronomy without the internet. While this packet will hopefully be useful for the OAD in the future, compiling this information was also incredibly informative to me, as I learned how to effectively communicate major concepts of astronomy.

The OAD also helped me plan a trip around South Africa to multiple places that could enrich my knowledge of astronomy education. With their advice and assistance, I visited Sutherland for 4 days, learning how SALT and the SAAO were impacting science education in the community. The OAD then assisted me in planning a trip to visit other observatories, science centres and planetariums across South Africa to learn how science is being communicated with children in a multitude of ways. Finally, the OAD, partnered with the SAAO, helped to arrange my participation in SciFest Africa 2013, where I engaged with large and diverse groups of children as well as science educators from around the country.

These experiences around South Africa have pushed me to become a more critical and knowledgeable astronomy communicator. With every experience, I gained new perspective and insight. Behind every interaction, the OAD was there to support me, introduce me to new resources and help me think through the things I learned.

Beyond the practical aspects of support, the OAD helped me to articulate the fundamentals of why we do science, why we do outreach, and how science can and should have an impact on the world. While I’d thought about these big questions before, working with the OAD brought these concepts to the forefront of my work and research. As I move forward and continue to travel and work with learners and educators from around the globe, I’ll carry the philosophy, optimism and warmth of the OAD with me. Many thanks to the OAD team for making my time in South Africa so meaningful and enriching. I hope we can continue to be in touch as I travel in the months ahead and beyond!