University Alumni Spotlight:
Vicki (Mader’ 91) Sarajedini
Major While at Mount Union: Physics and Mathematics
Hometown: Gainesville, FL
Current Job Title: Associate Professor and Graduate Coordinator
Employer: University of Florida
As an astronomer and a professor, my job includes work in three areas: research, education and service. I study galaxies beyond the Milky Way that contain supermassive black holes. These black holes can emit large amounts of light as material falls into them from the surrounding galaxy. My research involves collecting data from ground and space-based telescopes to study these objects, analyzing the images and other data from the telescopes, presenting research at conferences and writing papers that are published in our professional journals. In the area of education, I teach courses at the University of Florida for undergraduate and graduate students as well as advise graduate students pursuing research for their Ph.D. theses. I serve the University and the community by serving on various committees at UF, assisting graduate students in our department in my role as graduate coordinator for our Ph.D. and M.S. programs, and also by doing outreach at area schools to teach astronomy to K-12 students and encourage them in the sciences.
Shortly after beginning as a professor and researcher at UF, I was awarded a CAREER Award and $500,000 research grant from the National Science Foundation to pursue my work on the detection of active galaxies through optical variability. These awards are given to just a few researchers in our field each year, and it was a great honor to receive one.
Liberal Arts Education
I think the liberal arts education is critical for scientists because it gives us a broad range of skills and an extensive knowledge base from which to pursue our research. Science involves not just the application of the scientific method to a particular problem, but also quite a bit of creativity and the ability to communicate scientific results. These skills, along with several others, were fostered through the many non-science courses that I had as an undergraduate at Mount Union.
Love of Teaching
All parts of my job are fun and rewarding, but I especially enjoy teaching students at the University and in our local schools through educational outreach. It is a great feeling to be able to explain and discuss the wonders of the Universe with students of all ages. Often the concepts I am teaching may be completely new to them and it opens their minds to something they had never thought about before.
I was a postdoctoral researcher in astronomy before I began as a professor at UF. My postdoctoral positions were held at the University of California, Santa Cruz and Wesleyan University in Connecticut. These positions gave me the opportunity to focus on research and publication early in my career and hone my research skills. In both positions, I worked on large surveys of distant galaxies to identify those with supermassive black holes using spectra and images of several thousand galaxies.
Mount Union Preparation
At Mount Union, I received an excellent education and background in physics and mathematics. This allowed me to pursue the field of astronomy in graduate school. I also learned computer programming, which has been an important tool to interpret the astrophysical data and processes that I now study.
There were many, but I mainly remember my two physics professors, Dr. James Rodman and Dr. Peter Lucke. Both were also astronomers who had conducted research in astronomy. They were able to show me what was required to work in this area of scientific research and they encouraged me as I went on to graduate school from Mount Union.
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