Astronomer, Program Manger of the Interactive University,
part of the Center for Extreme Ultraviolet Astrophysics
We had the privilege of meeting with Dr. Isabel Hawkins one Wednesday afternoon in July. As we walked through the UC Berkeley campus we discussed the questions that we should ask her, and we felt nervous. We knew that she is an extremely busy person and we wanted to come prepared. To our delight, she warmly welcomed us as soon as we stepped into her office. We sat facing the window which looked out on the beautiful campus surroundings.
Her office was bright and well organized--pictures of her two daughters were displayed prominently on her desk. She started out by showing us the webpage that she has been working on, and of which she is the project manager. As it turned out, our prepared questions were not needed as our meeting turned into a friendly conversation instead of a question-and-answer forum. She explained everything with such enthusiasm that it was hard not to pay full attention. In the hour that we were together we covered so much--how she first was attracted to the beauty of space when she was a small girl in Argentina, her higher education paths through prestigious universities like UC Berkeley and UCLA and the evolution of her career from a very narrow technical field to an on-going broad education project.
She obtained a PhD in Astronomy in 1986, and since then has published more than 60 papers. We found that even with her advanced degrees, she still had her heart and mind open for what she really loves. "Education," she exclaimed, "is the best thing... it's so exciting." She followed this new path and developed "The Interactive University" along with teachers, students and school districts. The Interactive University was started and is still funded partially by a grant from NASA. It currently involves just the Oakland and San Francisco school districts but will soon become more accessible to other districts. It is a program that incorporates many of the resources from UC Berkeley and integrates them into the K-12 schools curriculum. There have been tremendous opportunities that this program has provided. For instance, when the the judge who oversaw the Bosnian war crimes case visited the United States recently, students from Thurgood Marshall High School in San Francisco had the opportunity to ask him questions about the pressing concerns of the Bosnian civil war. There is the section that covers the universe and astronomy (Dr. Hawkins' specialty) which allows math teachers to take the information about the orbit of a satellite and use it to graph a periodic function. The key idea behind this is to show students the relevance and importance of mathematics towards pursuing successful careers in many diverse fields.
As Dr. Hawkins put it "Our program involves so many people and programs, the common thread is technology--it has the power to bring us all together." As we left, we all felt inspired. Even as an unusual summer rain started to fall, it didn't break the spell that Dr. Hawkins wove in our minds. This was the advice that she had given us: "Enjoy your graduate and undergraduate studies as they will be among the best days of your life. Look around you... the University looks like a park, what can be better. It's wonderful and you learn so much." From our visit, we learned from Dr. Hawkins that she considers it important to keep in touch with the real world, especially for one whose career and life is in academia; and that it is crucial for scholars like her to remain in touch with students and teachers.