Teaching Others to Reach for the Stars

August 15, 2012


Eduardo Bendek (right) and the Optical Outreach Abroad team gathers at the Paranal Observatory platform during sunset. Eduardo Bendek (right) and the Optical Outreach Abroad team gathers at the Paranal Observatory platform during sunset.
When Eduardo Bendek departed for the University of Arizona to study at the College of Optical Sciences (COS) as an International Fulbright Science & Technology Award recipient, he sought to promote scientific collaboration between the United States and Chile.

He explained, “Chile is known by scientists around the world for its unique natural assets, including the pristine dark skies of the Atacama Desert and the stable and predictable weather. These qualities have motivated American and European organizations to construct world-class observatories in Chile.”

During the second year of his PhD program, Bendek organized the Optical Outreach Abroad Program, bringing four of his colleagues from the University of Arizona to the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile to conduct workshops on optical science.

“I designed an astronomical optics workshop for COS graduate students to engage foreign scientific communities, as well as high school students, in the discussion of optical science while at the same time teaching them about other cultures,” says Eduardo.

The outreach abroad program sought not only to engage optical scientists and engineers, but to also make a lasting impact on local high school students.

“We chose high schools that would represent a wide socioeconomic range of the population,” Eduardo adds . “Galileoscopes and tripods were donated to each school, as well as a ‘Communication with Light’ kit and several laser pointers so that teachers could continue their study of optics.”

The experience taught Bendek the challenges of organizing a successful multi-national education program that offers guidance for achieving long-term success.

“One of our main challenges was gaining credibility with the community and funding institutions,” explains Eduardo. “We achieved this through diligent fundraising and by involving team members and participants in shaping and executing the program.”

“I was very proud to introduce Chile to my fellow colleagues, who are all from different countries,” expresses Eduardo upon completing his outreach abroad program. “I was happy to see how surprised they were with the cultural richness, beautiful landscapes, and economic development of my country.”