DACC Astronomy Instructor Attempts to Increase, Diversify Audience

Dr. IIhuiyolitzin Villicana Pedraza, part time astronomy instructor for Doña Ana Community College (DACC) and Francisco Carreto-Parra Manager of Lab Instruction for Physics at New Mexico State University were published in the highly regarded academic journal, Nature Astronomy. The article, “100 hours of Astronomy at the Mexican Northern Border,” was featured in the August 26 edition.

The project is one that many in the sciences are faced with, “How do we attract more diverse students for our discipline,” Pedraza said. “Our initiative aimed at kindling the appreciation for and interest in astronomy in Mexico, and consequently increasing the number of students in this scientific area by using different social media channels and presentations.”

They organized an event in Northern Mexico that included a workshop and talks from professionals in the field of Astronomy to the general public and amateurs through face to face lectures, apps and social media to inspire the next generation of astronomers.  According to the article, “Professional astronomers gave talks about galaxies, asteroids, exoplanets, astrobiology, black holes and star evolution. Astronomical observations were also carried out. We employed technology to encourage the participation of people of all ages, genders and of underrepresented groups.”

The project was held January 10 -13, 2019. It also included observations of astronomical phenomena in Mulege, Hermosillo, and Monterrey which all suffered from cloudy skies. However the weather in Ciudad Juárez and Nuevo Laredo was perfect for viewing. This pilot project is a step towards inclusion and access to information by underrepresented groups. Two hundred seventy people participated in face-to-face lectures and 351 participated on-line. A similar event is planned for February that will include all the Northern States of Mexico and all the Southern States of the U.S.

Since publication they have been approached by different scientific organizations from Canada, Europe, Central and South America who are interested in doing similar events. “We are happy this project is a seed motivating change,” Pedraza said. “This will change the way conferences and outreach will use technologies to be more inclusive and widespread.”