Oct. 24, 1996
Vol. 16, No. 4

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    Learning that teaching is two-way street

    Instrumental to CUIP's success are two astrophysicists -- Lucia Munoz-Franco and Luisa Rebull -- who are taking time out from their studies of the stars to bring the Internet project to fruition.

    Munoz-Franco, born in Mexico City, initially came to the United States to study physics and mathematics as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. Now a fourth-year graduate student in Astronomy & Astrophysics, she works with Professor Don Lamb to understand compact stellar objects, such as neutron stars. "Neutron stars are a laboratory for things that we have no hope of ever making or exploring here on earth," she said. "They're extreme -- that's one reason why I like them."

    Munoz-Franco's involvement in CUIP resulted from her desire to learn more about teaching. "I like education, I've always been into teaching and explaining things to the general public, and outreach seemed to be the way to learn about teaching," she said.

    Working with CUIP, she said, is a way to broaden teachers' and students' horizons.

    "On the Internet, your world just opens up -- there are all of these things out there. I really enjoy seeing that happen with teachers. I was working with one science teacher and showing him different sites, where pictures from NASA are archived, and other things, and I watched as his world sort of opened up and became so much bigger. I can only imagine what this means for kids.

    "I also hope that the teachers and students go on to do things that they wouldn't otherwise have done, get a job they wouldn't otherwise have been able to get, learn something they wouldn't otherwise have learned," she said.

    Luisa Rebull, a fifth-year graduate student, uses the Hubble Space Telescope to study the origins of chemical elements in stars with her adviser, Douglas Duncan, Associate Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics. Although she was head of the astronomy club at her alma mater, William and Mary, Rebull said she didn't really become interested in teaching or outreach until she came to Chicago.

    "I didn't think I was interested in teaching," said Rebull, "because I always thought of teaching as being defined as one person standing in front of a classroom full of students."

    Rebull said it was through her required teaching-assistantship -- working with inner-city high school students and the University's Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica -- that opened her eyes to the possibilities that teaching could happen in other ways. "I still honestly don't think I could ever teach in a high school classroom, but I really enjoy a more informal interaction," she said.

    The Internet project may be most important, Rebull said, for what it can give teachers.

    "If as a result of our efforts we can turn teachers on to the Internet who wouldn't otherwise use it, or, even more exciting, capture the attention of a teacher who thinks they hate computers, that's what's most important. If they're able to take it and run with it when I give them a few threads -- seeing what they do with it afterwards, that's what's the most fun."

    -- D.S.