Suzanne Gurton Receives AANC Professional Award
August 2008 – Suzanne Gurton, the Education Manager at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP), has received the 2008 Professional Award, given each year by the Astronomical Association of Northern California to an astronomer who has done outstanding work in distinguishing and fostering amateur astronomy.
Gurton has been an astronomy educator at the ASP for eight years, creating and writing activities, holding workshops for a wide range of educators, and, more recently, managing the staff of the entire education department at the 120-year old Society. She has spearheaded several major national educational initiatives that benefit the amateur and educational communities in astronomy
Primary among these is the Night Sky Network project (done in cooperation with JPL and several NASA missions), in which members of over 200 astronomy clubs around North America are being supplied with education and outreach kits and being trained on how to do school and public events with them. NASA has recognized this project as one of its most successful educational programs and continues to support and expand it. The program has demonstrated the effectiveness of using the often undervalued and underutilized talents and energies of the amateur community for education and outreach.
A new project, which Gurton also heads, called Sharing the Universe, will undertake research on the factors that allow amateur clubs to be successful at outreach and the factors that hold clubs back. In an older program, called Family ASTRO, professional and amateur astronomers are trained to present family-friendly programs using hands-on activities, most of them written or adapted by Gurton. She has also served as a tireless ambassador between the astronomical community and a variety of community based organizations, including the National School Boards Association, the Girl Scouts, the National Science Teachers Association, and the Association of Science and Technology Centers.
Before joining the ASP, Gurton was an educator at the Griffith Observatory, Fiske Planetarium, Hayden Planetarium, and Santa Fe Community College (where she established the new planetarium as a community resource.) She was named a Fellow of the International Planetarium Society in recognition of a lifetime of contributions to planetarium education in 2008. Past winners of the AANC Award include former ASP Presidents Harold Weaver, David Morrison and Alex Filippenko; former ASP Board member (and first woman in history to discover a planet), Debra Fischer; former ASP Executive Director, Andrew Fraknoi; and Robert Naeye, who recently became editor of Sky & Telescope magazine.