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Teaching from the cosmos

Kathy Eastwood first fell in love with astronomy in the 1960s, when, as a child, she was fascinated by the Gemini and Apollo lunar missions. Eastwood’s interest led her to pursue her passion in a life-long career that has included national leadership in astronomy research and award-winning work in the classroom at one of the nation’s best undergraduate astronomy programs at Northern Arizona University.

Eastwood, a professor of physics and astronomy, has gained world recognition for her research measuring the most massive stars in the universe. In 2006, she received a Fulbright Lecturing and Research Award and traveled to Chile to work at observatories there.

Astronomy in the Dark City

Flagstaff is an ideal environment for astronomers, and Eastwood and other faculty at Northern Arizona University engage students with a wide array of local resources, including Lowell Observatory, the U.S. Naval Observatory, and the astrogeology group at the U.S. Geological Survey. Eastwood also builds partnerships and cultivates support from the National Science Foundation and NASA.

“Flagstaff is a great town to be an astronomer and an astronomy professor,” Eastwood explains. “Students graduate with the skills, confidence, and practical experience to successfully continue in astronomy or physics, whether it’s in the workplace or in graduate studies.”

Undergraduates are at the center of everything that Eastwood does, and she is committed to helping them receiving hands-on research experiences.

“Undergraduates here are deeply involved in the entire research process,” Eastwood says. “They are the researcher – not just an add-on or on the periphery – and that’s what’s different. They gather real data, and they leave having accomplished something that would be difficult to accomplish anywhere else.”

National recognition

Eastwood has been committed to both research and undergraduate education since 1989, when she was appointed director of the National Undergraduate Research Observatory (NURO) at NAU and Lowell Observatory – a position she still holds. This program brings multiple undergraduate universities to Flagstaff each year to use the observatory’s telescopes and equipment. Eastwood says this is a huge boost for Northern Arizona University and its students.

“This is one of the only schools where a small undergraduate department partners with major observatories,” she says. “We can support more undergraduates than we could otherwise because of our relationships with other institutions.”

Eastwood may study stars billions of miles away, but she loves being in Flagstaff at a university committed to both scientific research and undergraduate education.

“I’m not only at a university that has close observatories, astronomers, and collaborations, but also at a university that truly values its undergraduates,” Eastwood says.