31 August 2009

AAS Gears Up for Expanded Role in Science Journalism, Education & Outreach

AAS Press Release

August 31, 2009

Dr. Kevin Marvel
AAS Executive Officer
1-202-328-2010 x114

With the addition of several new staff members and volunteers, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) is strengthening its position as a leading advocate for and facilitator of excellence in astronomy journalism, education, and outreach.

Joining the AAS staff full time on September 1st is Richard Tresch Fienberg, who will serve as Press Officer and Education & Outreach Coordinator. Fienberg comes to the Society from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where he taught classes and supervised student research last year as Visiting Scientist in Astronomy. While at Andover he also volunteered with the AAS as Deputy Press Officer. Before that he spent 22 years at Sky & Telescope magazine, the last 8 as Editor in Chief. Fienberg is a leader in the International Year of Astronomy 2009 effort, most notably as chair of the Galileoscope Cornerstone Project, which has developed an inexpensive, high-quality educational refractor kit that will give millions of people their first look at the night sky through a telescope.

In his capacity as Press Officer, Fienberg succeeds Stephen P. Maran, who has managed the Society’s press relations for a quarter century — entirely pro bono. Maran recently retired from a long and distinguished career at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, where, among other things, he worked on two scientific instruments for the Hubble Space Telescope. Through his meticulous planning and execution of press conferences at AAS meetings and his development of expert-referral and press-release-distribution systems, Maran significantly increased the amount and impact of astronomy coverage in the news media over the last 25 years. He will continue to donate time to the AAS in his new role as Senior Advisor to the Executive Officer.

“Steve Maran is a hard act to follow,” says Fienberg. “Thanks to him, the AAS enjoys the best possible reputation among science journalists. I look forward to the challenge of building on Steve’s legacy in the years ahead as the media landscape changes in ways none of us can anticipate.”

Volunteering to support Fienberg as Deputy Press Officer is Inge Heyer, Science Outreach Specialist at the Joint Astronomy Centre in Hilo, Hawaii. Heyer has been helping to manage press activities at AAS meetings for many years and has become the de-facto Press Room Supervisor. She will now also fill in for Fienberg when he’s unavailable to operate the AAS press-release-distribution service. Laurence A. Marschall, Professor of Physics at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, will continue as the other AAS Deputy Press Officer, helping to run press AAS conferences as he’s been doing for some 15 years.

Fienberg’s other responsibilities will be in education and outreach, where he will advance the Society’s efforts to train scientific researchers, help astronomers to become better educators, support research on learning of astronomy, and promote astronomy to the public. Several astronomical institutions and sister scientific societies maintain strong programs in these areas. Fienberg’s charge is to communicate best practices from these programs to AAS members and to engage as many of them as possible in the pursuit of the Society’s education and outreach goals.

In addition to its twice-yearly meetings, the AAS promotes communication among its members primarily through the publication of peer-reviewed journals. Accordingly, the Society has added Astronomy Education Review to its stable of publications. Established in 2001 by founding editors Sidney Wolff and Andrew Fraknoi, AER has become the leading journal featuring results of astronomy education research and showcasing effective strategies and techniques for astronomy instruction both inside and outside the classroom.

An electronic-only journal, AER outgrew its original home on the website of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory and is now hosted by American Institute of Physics Publishing Services. With Wolff retiring as AER’s Editor in Chief at the end of 2009, the AAS has hired Thomas A. Hockey to succeed her, effective January 1, 2010. Hockey is Professor of Astronomy at the University of Northern Iowa, author of several popular books, and principal editor of The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, 2007).

“Astronomy is arguably the most accessible science,” says AAS Executive Officer Kevin B. Marvel. “With our expanded team of media and outreach professionals, the AAS is positioned to ensure that the most exciting scientific and educational developments in astronomy reach the widest possible audience.”

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The American Astronomical Society (AAS), established in 1899 and based in Washington, DC, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. Its membership of about 7,700 also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity's scientific understanding of the universe: (1) The Society, through its publications, disseminates and archives the results of astronomical research; (2) The Society facilitates and strengthens the interactions among members through professional meetings and other means; (3) The Society represents the goals of its community of members to the nation and the world; (4) The Society, through its members, trains, mentors, and supports the next generation of astronomers; and (5) The Society assists its members to develop their skills in the fields of education and public outreach at all levels.