How Being the Astronomy Club President Changed My Life

By Zachary Goodrich

I guess we all have to start from somewhere. My story began when I was eleven years old. It was October of that year. I had never really been into astronomy up to that point but, apparently my teacher though I was. It’s an odd story in itself but, her and her husband just recently got divorced and she was left with a bunch of sky and telescope magazines. So she asked me if I could take them. As I recall she said, “you’d get more use out of these than I would”. I happily obliged and took them home. Up until I opened that magazine I wanted to be an entomologist. I liked bugs. Until then. At that moment I knew I wanted to study galaxies. They were so elusive to me. It was a powerful gut feeling. Humbling and primordial in nature. I almost can’t do it justice with words. The closest real world parallel I can draw to it is that feeling you get when you look at fossils or ancient trees. It was that wonder and that thrill that drove me into picking up a habit worse than any drug. Getting a degree in astrophysics.

Fast forward to the regional science fair of my senior year of highschool. There were kids from all around the four corners region as well as some from Magdalena. The kids from Magdalena were accompanied by Dr. Dan Klingelsmith III. I was presenting my project on the Yarkovsky effect on asteroids. Dr. Dan noticed that I had some asteroid light curves on my board and just like that we started talking. After a while he gave me his card and if I needed any help to send him an email. We went our separate ways after that. He resumed his research and I went on to the international science fair. I was extremely nervous about leaving for college. It was the only thing I thought about on the trip. Mostly because I only knew one person from my hometown but, a part of me wasn’t sure if I would be able to rise to the challenge. Not just the challenge of college but of moving on into the next phase of life. It was that fear of failure that almost caused my failure.

I moved out and got settled in. October came around once more and I decided I needed to get back to my roots. I saw a flyer for astro club on a Friday night and I went with a friend. No one was there. Except for Dr. Dan. He was there just doing his thing. He walked us through how everything worked and showed us how he took data and processed it. I asked him if he needed any help collecting. It had begun. The disease spread and I was hooked. I spent a lot of time there. It never really got in the way of my studies. I always had my homework done prior to my sessions. But we all have our faults. In highschool I had never really developed good study habits. Generally I just went with the motions, did my work and never really tried. Sure I had taken college classes before but never like this. I just barely passed. I lost my scholarship and at the time I didn’t know what happened or why I did so badly. After all, I’m not an idiot.

I continued on. The grades came as I got used to pushing myself. I kept helping Dr. Dan with his research as well as helping out with the first saturday star parties. June came around. It was a run of the mill star party. I just finished closing down a telescope. Dr. Dan came into the building and we started talking like usual. I had asked him what had happened to the astronomy club. I hadn’t seen the club at etscorn for the entirety of my time at New Mexico Tech. He told me they generally had meetings but he hadn’t seen them in the past year. He got in his truck and I said “I’ll see you next month!”.

That was the last time I saw Dr. Dan. He died two months later from cancer. Something like this never happened to me before. So I did what I thought he would have wanted me to do. I took it on myself to continue on with the work he was doing and provide astrophysics students with an opportunity to do research. The astroclub did return In fall of that year. I ran into them by accident and gave them a star party with the 20” dobsonian telescope. The previous president was about to graduate, so he asked me if I could carry it on. And carry it on I did.

The first chance I got I implemented ideas that I had been working on. Astroclub is a place where students can come to do research and have a nice calm evening. We host star parties now and even have hot chocolate. I had always wished for a helping hand growing up. Someone that had the same passion I did. So here I am now. I’m the person I needed. The person that is willing to work with others to help them achieve their goals. The person that recognizes traits and talents and builds on them. It’s not about the research anymore. It’s not about keeping the observatory clean and running. It’s about giving these students a chance to express their passion in a way that wasn’t possible. The rest just comes with it. My life will never be the same. Especially now. I finally feel like I have a good purpose and a clear goal. Just because I got to be the astro club president.