Experiential learning is a hallmark of a Clayton State University education. In many programs, such as Nursing, Dental Hygiene, History and Communication and Media Studies, there are clear means by which the faculty can provide experience to the students outside of the classroom; the Nursing Simulation Lab, the Dental Hygiene Clinic, the National Archives at Atlanta and the Georgia Archives, and the T.R.U.S.T. student public relations agency, for example.
However, since Clayton State doesn’t have an observatory on campus, Assistant Professor of Physics Dr. Bram Boroson has another solution for his astronomy classes.
Meet Stephen Ramsden, the head of the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project (http://www.solarastronomy.org). Ramsden is a former Clayton State physics student whose current profession is an air traffic controller at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. However, his passion is solar astronomy, and it’s a passion he shares with students, from middle school to college, all over the world. Through the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project, Ramsden and his colleagues expect to bring solar astronomy, by means of on-site high-tech telescopes, to 250,000 people in 17 countries during 2014.
“We have to book him at least a semester in advance,” notes Boroson, who also follows Ramsden on social media. “Here's a guy who really has a passion for science and discovery and uses that passion to inspire others and improve the world. He's not content just to do his day job and relax, but on the side he runs a world-class solar astronomy education service for free.
“He really believes that everyone can benefit from science education and that he has an obligation to share his passion with as many people as he can.”
Boroson, who similarly has a passion for science, adds that he first found out about Ramsden and his astronomy outreach program when Clayton State Professor of Physics Dr. Tatiana A. Krivosheev hosted a meeting of the local conference of the American Association of Physics teachers, and brought Ramsden to campus for the conference.
“Now Stephen and I are in regular contact, and I arrange for him to come to campus regularly,” he adds.
Ramsden made his most recent visit at the start of the spring 2014 semester. Although the construction for the new science building meant Ramsden had to relocate his telescopes to the Baker Center parking lot, his visit was, as always, a learning experience.
“Neither of my astronomy classes has studied the Sun yet, although ASTR 1020 students have learned about light and the spectrum,” says Boroson. “The advantage of an event like this is not so much to teach specific material, but to get students excited and interested. Later when I teach them about spectra or about the Sun in detail I'll be able to connect what I say to what they saw.
“Science is a field that, because of its perceived difficulty, many students turn off, and astronomy is a field that often captures imagination of most. Many students, faculty, administrators, and service employees also stopped by to look at the Sun, so it wasn't just for my students.”
“I was delighted to find out what the Sun consisted of,” says Nicole Taylor, one of Boroson’s students. “I never really knew and assumed it was just a big ball of light. I learned that day that the Sun was actually made of calcium, hydrogen and elements of iron. I also saw inside the Sun was red. I enjoyed the experience overall.”
Comments like Taylor’s, and the experiences of everyone who stopped by to look at the sun are music (or maybe solar flares) to Ramsden. As Boroson notes, he has a passion for solar astronomy, and for educating.
Ramsden founded the Bates Project in 2008 as a way to share his success in life, a success, he says, that began at Clayton State. A native of Riverdale, Ga., Ramsden graduated from North Clayton High School and then joined the military. After leaving the service in 1987, he attended the local college (i.e., Clayton State) before getting a bachelor’s degree in Physics from Georgia State.
“They presented opportunities to me. The fact that people like my teachers took time out of their lives to show me something turned me into someone who has been successful,” he says of his Clayton State experience. “Now it’s time to give back.”
Ramsden notes that his decision to start the Bates Project was based initially on three factors: recognizing that middle school and high school students are important; that he could say to them, “I came from where you’re coming from, and I became successful,” and; “here’s how you do it – get involved in math and science.”
“Young kids are blank slates, they just don’t know what to do,” he says. “No game can compete with real life. Show them real life; look up, look at the sun. Everywhere around you there are volumes of really cool stuff you can learn. The sun speaks for itself.
“This is a state of the art program. It really gets students interested. These kids really take to it.”
Although the Bates Project goes all over the world – Ramsden himself is heading for Australia later this year – there’s no doubt that its founder remembers Clayton State, where his dreams were made real, and enjoys taking part in Boroson’s astronomy classes.
“Clayton State was an integral step for me. I’m real grateful for Clayton State for helping me go to a successful career, and for helping me become a real world educator,” he says. “This program is a good example of what Clayton State is doing.”
As it turns out, Ramsden will shortly be retiring from his “day job” in air traffic control after 25 years. However, he’ll be off for Australia shortly thereafter because, “my plan is to keep doing what I’m doing.”