Aloha astronomy majors

Berry partnering with University of Hawaii to offer dual degree astronomy program.

Sarah O’Carroll, Viking Fusion Reporter

By partnering with the University of Hawaii at Hilo, Berry will begin offering a dual degree astronomy major beginning as early as the Fall semester this year, said Gary Breton, dean of mathematical and natural sciences.

According to Breton, students would attend Berry for three years, then transfer to UH Hilo for an additional two years. At the end of the five-year program, participants would earn a Bachelor of Science degree in astronomy from both schools.

“It mirrors what we do with the dual degree engineering program, where students are here at Berry for three years, then go on to get a degree from Georgia Tech or some other school,” he said.

A two-year process

The brainchild for the program was Krishna Dhir, former dean of the Campbell School of Business at Berry, according to Breton. Now dean of the College of Business and Economics at UH Hilo, Dhir began the effort to co-develop the program two years ago.

Breton said he has noted strong interest in astronomy among Berry students, based on enrollments in the department’s introductory courses. Developing a major in the field is, therefore, a logical step, he said.

“In the past, if students really wanted to [pursue astronomy], they’d have to leave Berry for somewhere else, [but] now we’re able to offer that extension ourselves,” Breton said. 

Optimal location, facilities

Breton said the city of Hilo is geographically ideal for pursuing astronomy in terms of its distance from light emitted by surrounding continents, as well as its access to prestigious observatories, including the Gemini Observatory.

“Astronomy makes sense because Hilo is the center for telescopes both nationally and internationally,” Breton said. “They have a nearby volcano [Mauna Kea], on top of which are located some of the major telescopes from across the world.”

Though the program is open to all students, prerequisites for the program would include courses in math, physics and astronomy.

Additional majors to be considered

Breton said that if the program proves successful, similar programs involving other disciplines and majors, such as marine biology and geology, may be added.

“The university is maybe 15 minutes from the ocean, so they have a thriving marine science program,” Breton said. “Once we have astronomy worked out, if there is interest in our biology department, it will be the same kind of thing where we will extend the astronomy program to marine biology, and possibly to geology, as well.”

The University of Hawaii at Hilo, a public university founded in 1941, is one of ten branches of the University of Hawaii system. The island in which Hilo is located features geographic and topographical diversity, including snow-capped mountains, deserts, rainforest, coral reefs, estuaries and active volcanoes.

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