Building Astronomy in Texas

This weekend, the Texas A&M Astronomy Group will host the statewide Building Astronomy in Texas (BAT) workshop within the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy on the Texas A&M University campus. At present, the tentative RSVP list includes more than 80 astronomers, students and research staff representing 18 different Texas universities.

Arguably a sweet spotlight by any standard, for us and the state, but I contend it’s merely an extrapolation of what the Texas A&M astronomers do best: learn about and from each other and then use that new knowledge to grow as people, as a program and as a profession.

One doesn’t have to look far to find a relevant case in point if not precursor: August 28. Apparently, it’s an annual tradition for the ASTRO group to host an all-day symposium the Friday before the fall semester starts. It’s organized and chaired by postdoctoral students, and each member of the group — from tenured professors to undergraduates — has the opportunity to give a 10-minute talk on his or her current research. This year, they ended the day with a new tradition: a group-wide dinner at Darren DePoy and Jennifer Marshall’s house. Check out this recap video for additional information on the symposium and further insight via first-person interviews:

When I was explaining to my husband about what they had planned for that day, from the postdoc-chaired symposium and group-wide presenting opportunity to the family-style dinner (not at a restaurant, mind you, but at the deputy director’s house), I said it reminded me of exactly how Bob Johnson –- er, make that Dr. Robert E. Johnson, AIA — treated me during one of my past professional lives in the Texas A&M College of Architecture. Bob himself interviewed and later hired me as a staff member in the CRS Center, established in 1990 by legendary Houston architecture firm CRS (Caudill Rowlett Scott) as one of the then-seven research centers and institutes within Texas A&M Architecture. I knew nothing of Bob nor the field, yet from Day 1, he gave me full access to every facet of his operation, from the financials to the server records to the CRS firm archives. I saw exactly what he saw, because he saw us as equals. What an empowering view! Yes, it’s a calculated management risk, but wow, the rewards that can be realized for all parties when that trust is there, real and reciprocated.

The Texas A&M ASTRO group is there, and it’s as powerfully compelling and exciting to me as learning about the historic rise of another Texas juggernaut on the architectural scene was, then and now. One resulted in two chapters in a book, and the sky’s the limit for the other. Take it from someone who didn’t know a lick about architecture or astronomy.

Perfection to the Power of Two

I’ve long been impressed by the caliber of Texas A&M Science faculty and staff, professionally and personally. I guess that pretty much applies to their children, too.

Texas A&M astronomer Kevin Krisciunas recently alerted me to the fact that College Station High School’s Woody Wang, the son of Texas A&M astronomer Lifan Wang and Yuanjing Xu, scored a perfect 2400 on the SAT. An accomplished violinist (check him out here as a soloist his freshman year in 2012), Woody is also captain of his Brazos Valley Storm Hockey Club team, which he says is recruiting members (hint, hint…).

Woody Wang (Credit: Woody Wang, Facebook.)

Woody Wang (Credit: Woody Wang, Facebook.)

Woody Wang (Credit: Woody Wang, Facebook.)

Woody Wang (Credit: Woody Wang, Facebook.)

When I texted Dean of Science Joe Newton to let him know, he informed me that the only other student he knows who has accomplished this spectacular feat is Texas A&M statistician Suojin Wang’s daughter Jessica Wang, a 2006 graduate of A&M Consolidated High School in College Station. Here’s more on Jessica from proud dad, Suojin Wang:

Jessica Wang (Credit: Jessica Wang, LinkedIn.)

Jessica Wang (Credit: Jessica Wang, LinkedIn.)

“In the year when she took SAT, it was the first time to have the writing part added to SAT. She took the old SAT too in that year and scored the perfect 1600 as well. She was later selected as a U.S. Presidential Scholar. Jessica recently graduated from Yale University Medical School. She is now a residence doctor at UC San Francisco. She is dedicated to serving the underserved population.”

So, not once but twice in the perfect-SAT-score department for Jessica Wang. Doubly incredible!

Not sure if it’s something in the College Station water, but I’m making my three Bs drink up just in case.

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Interestingly enough, my follow-up correspondence with Kevin Krisciunas led to the following story regarding biographical details and the devil that sometimes lies in their proper documentation. Here’s more from the double-birthday-boy himself:

“I have two official, legal birth certificates — one for Sept. 12, one for Sept. 13. Made for some confusion when I registered for the draft.

“Back when I was born in Chicago, the births were supposed to be recorded on Standard Time. I was born at 12:04 a.m. on the 13th, and the first birth certificate (though it’s legal) was wrong. It said Sept. 13th at 11:04 p.m. The second one had the right day and right Standard Time. I don’t know the rules are still the same in Cook County, Illinois.”