Astronomy professors helping students reach for the stars

There are kids who want to be cowboys, others want to be cops and some want to be astronaut and explore the universe. The latter can be said of Keith “Kilo” Watt, a theoretical astronomer and astronomy professor at Glendale Community College

Professor Watt, or “Kilo” as he likes to be called, didn’t originally intend on becoming an astronomer. “Well, actually I wanted to be an astronaut” said Watt. This led to him enlisting in the Navy which produces the “highest number of astronauts”. He chose his first sea duty squadron because it shared a base with the test pilot school; which he had plans of later transferring to.

All of this however was cut short after he contracted meningitis and he was consequentially forced to retire from the Navy. This wasn’t a death blow to his aspirations; following his stint in the Navy, he applied at Marshall Space Flight Center at NASA. “I became a spaceflight engineer,” said Watt “working on the space shuttle.”

While at NASA, Watt decided that he would go back to graduate school, so he enrolled at the University of Maryland; where he obtained his Master’s in astrophysics. While there he met a girl named Sally who would eventually become his wife.

Together they moved to the valley, where he worked at the Mars Space Flight Facility in Tempe, Arizona. Sally was working as a full-time professor. Time passed and Kilo received a call that there was need for an astronomy professor at GCC and that is how he ended up here on campus.

“I enjoy teaching” said Watt “it’s one of the things I think I do fairly well, this was kind of my natural extension.”

This sentiment is echoed by all his students past and previous. Henri Esteban an astrophysics major and former student of Watt’s remembers walking into Kilo’s class and being greeted by a man in jeans and and NASA bomber jacket. “I thought that was pretty sweet,” said Esteban.

His attitude and knowledge cultivate themselves in the manner he teaches. “He’s a very knowledgeable professor” said Esteban “being a Navy pilot and engineer for NASA, I wouldn’t have expected less.”

Esteban appreciates Watt’s approach and understands it’s because of Watt’s love for astronomy. “He’s a nerd at heart,” said Esteban. “But also subtly communicates the I-can-kick-you-ass-at-everything attitude while maintaining his humility.”

At the end of the day he wants to give his students all the skills necessary to succeed. “a lot of these people are not going to become scientist,” Said Watt “and we don’t expect them to be; we just want them to become scientifically literate.”

“Seeing that light come on in those students is a really big thing,” said Watt. His impact is such; that he has had people who were accounting majors end up being astronomy majors after taking his class.

Watt says that it is always gratifying when they (students) are interested enough in what you’re doing, to say hey this is cool, I want to do this for the rest of my life.

Thanks to the help of professor Watt, students at the North campus became the first community college students in the country to see another planet going around another star. In addition, students in the A.S.T.R.O club which is advised by his wife Sally were able to submit their research to the American Astronomical Society.

“GCC has been getting a lot of national recognition as a result of the astronomy program here,” said Watt “we’ve really put ourselves on the map.”

Moving forward, Watt who is the chair of the teaching instruction council for the district, is working on creating a major map for students who want to major in astronomy which will guide students in classes to achieve that goal.

Students who are interested in astronomy or just want to get their feet wet can attend one of the stargazing events held in partnership with the the GCC North campus and the A.S.T.R.O club which is headed by Sally Watt and meets bi-weekly on Fridays at GCC North. The next event is yet to be named but individuals who are interested can attend the meetings.

If you are interested in obtaining more information on A.S.T.RO club contact Sally Watt at sara.watt@gccaz.edu for more info.

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