View the stars with Pierce professor

Tucked down at the bottom of his Pierce webpage, a bold header reads, “Hint With Big Flashing Neon Sign.”

 

It doesn’t actually flash, but immediately beneath it can be found his fundamental stance on education: “Education is what you make of it, not what happens to you.”

 

Dr. Dale Fields is an astronomy professor here at Pierce College and the Astronomy Department’s Discipline Advisor.

 

He teaches Astronomy 1 and 2, Elementary Astronomy and its lab.

 

After getting his Bachelors in Astronomy and Physics from the University of Arizona, Fields went on to receive his Masters and Ph.D. in Astronomy from Ohio State in 2002 and 2006, respectively.

 

He took up his first post-graduate position as an assistant professor in the physics department at Pierce shortly thereafter.

 

He’s been teaching here ever since.

 

Despite his handful of degrees, Fields isn’t concerned with titles.

 

“Professor is just the title, it’s just what I do,” Fields said. “Being a scientist, among other things, I’m more interested in what’s inside someone’s head than the letters around their name.”

 

Don Sparks, a physics and astronomy professor at Pierce since 1989, said Fields is “a terrific and dedicated instructor.”

 

Sparks, who shared an office with Fields for a year during his probationary period, was on Field’s hiring committee.

 

“All of us on the committee were impressed with his interview and resume,” he said.

 

Over the years, Fields has discovered a pattern when it comes to students that do well in his classes.

 

“I’ve had a huge variety of students,” he said.

 

He’s had students come directly from high school, the penitentiary, a war, and people who just want to learn the subject for their own sake.

 

“The number one person who doesn’t do well in these classes,” he said, “is the wallflower, . . . the person that sits there and tries to just let learning happen to them.”

 

He suggests students take the opposite of the wallflower approach: “If you’re not willing to grab your education and demand that you get something out of it, . . . if you’re not one of the people who’s willing to push forward and be proactive, then you don’t really get anything out of it.”

 

He encourages students to “use every resource [they] can,” and he highly recommends using study groups.

 

“Teaching is learning twice,” he says in a document available to his students entitled “Eight Ways to Succeed (or Not) in Astronomy 1.”

 

He says this way of learning by explaining things to others largely comes from his mother’s encouraging him to do so.

 

She would say to him after school, “tell me one thing you’ve learned and explain it to me.”

 

“I may think that I understand something, but if I need to explain it to someone else, I will find out whether I actually do understand it,” Fields said.

 

” If you can teach something to someone, you know it, conciseness really is a hallmark of being able to understand something.”

 

Fields even wears his profession on his sleeve, literally.

 

“I’ve liked random, funny, and nerdy t-shirts for a long time.”

 

He cites one of his favorites that reads, “I hated Pluto before it was cool.”

 

He “spent a decent amount of money on wardrobe,” buying customized t-shirts, largely from an online retailer called CafePress, that present current scientific topics in a humorous light to his students.

 

Fields frequently updates his homepage on Pierce’s website.

 

He uses it to keep students who are crashing informed about a class’s lottery, post links to “nerd-related news,” and generally keep students up to date on classes.

 

He even has sections dedicated to his favorite mobile apps, like SkySafari and Star Walk, and TV shows, including “The Universe,” “Futurama,” and, “Good Eats with Alton Brown.”

 

He’s been an avid bicyclist for the past 14 years and he rides to and from campus every day.

 

His home is near campus, but he likes “taking different routes to increase my overall time” on his bike

 

He’s not big on driving, either.

 

“If I ever have to drive, I feel bad,” he said.

 

He has a generous offering of office hours and even invites students to come find him while he’s prepping the astronomy lab on Thursdays.

 

According to his web site, there will be two “Viewing Nights” and two planetarium shows this semester.

 

He called the planetarium a “multi-purpose media center,” and said he wants to “show the cool things that only a planetarium can actually show us.”

 

He only plans a little more than an hour of the two-hour planetarium shows.

 

He leaves the rest up for requests such as “what will the sky look like on my birthday?” or, “what did the sky look like in 5 B.C.?”

 

The the first Viewing Night will be this upcoming Wednesday, “from sunset-ish until people get cold and tired,” and the first planetarium show will be on Monday, October 8 at 6:00 p.m.

 

Matt Gottesman
Staff Spring 2013

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