My greatest professional strength is my love for science. If you truly love your content, you will naturally be more motivated to succeed in it.
Catherine Pannill-Rohrbaugh, ’11, introduces her students to new worlds as a seventh grade science teacher.
Last school year, Pannill-Rohrbaugh started an asteroid search team as an extracurricular activity for students at Raleigh’s Dillard Drive Middle School. Her initial goal for the four student team was to locate and confirm one asteroid. “I knew I could find the asteroids, but it is not about me, it’s about allowing the students to take on the leadership role,” she explained.
The team far exceeded Pannill-Rohrbaugh’s expectations, ending the search with 19 asteroid locations and a provisional asteroid discovery. Their work gained attention, resulting in an invitation for the team to present at NASA’s Asteroid Initiative Opportunities Forum.
NASA has invited Pannill-Rohrbaugh to help them make astronomy more accessible for students and other amateurs. She was offered an opportunity to work with NASA this past summer and throughout the 2014-15 school year.
“I am participating and presenting in online conferences for NASA as part of their Asteroid Grand Challenge Program,” Pannill-Rohrbaugh said. “I am also partnering with the International Astronomical Search Collaboration to do teacher recruitment and training for the asteroid search programs.”
The asteroid team idea was sparked by her experience at Meredith searching for asteroids in Professor of Physics Bill Schmidt’s astronomy class. “I have 23 observations and three discoveries from my college search days,” she said.
Pannill-Rohrbaugh praises her Meredith professors for being a network of mentors. Schmidt and others at Meredith shared insight to help make the asteroid team successful.
“Dr. Schmidt allowed me to take on a lot of leadership roles and learn the ropes of asteroid hunting throughout my time at Meredith,” Pannill-Rohrbaugh said. “When I wanted to begin my own team, I immediately emailed him to see exactly how to get started.”
Though she’s won several recognitions for her work, her greatest reward is the success of her students. Some who previously disliked science praise her for making the subject fun.
“My students often will tell me that they will pay attention just to see what random science thing I will do next,” she said. “My greatest professional strength is my love for science. If you truly love your content, you will naturally be more motivated to succeed in it.”