Beyond the Classroom : Dr. Kenneth Carrell

Planetarium director and professor uses passion for astronomy to inspire students and the community

By Aubree Bailey
On March 8, 2018

File Photo
Dr. Kenneth Carrell is a Texas Tech alumnus and father of three.

Dr. Kenneth Wayne Carrell is no stranger to West Texas or ASU; he grew up in Mertzon, Texas, and took dual credit classes at ASU during high school.

"After I graduated I went to Texas Tech, and I stayed there for 11 and a half years," Carrell said.

During that time, he obtained bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in physics.

After teaching high school and middle school and even working overseas, Carrell returned to West Texas in 2016 as an assistant professor of physics and geosciences and the planetarium director.

"I spent time in Chicago, I spent time in Europe and China, but West Texas is still where I feel comfortable. I enjoy being here and I really like Angelo State," Carrell said.

In addition to teaching classes, Carrell also conducts planetarium shows for school and community groups: "Our planetarium is mainly an outreach center. So we have classes in there that I teach, but a lot of days we have groups come in, mainly school groups, but also community groups like scouts and assisted living homes."

Carrell says he values the diverse roles he plays as professor and director.

"The part I enjoy the most is that throughout the day what I do changes pretty dramatically. Today, I just taught an astrophysics class, an upper-level class. But later, a group of middle school students will come in to watch a show. From any given day I go from teaching upper-level physics to teaching second graders about the sky, which is fun in a different way: they ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ and are really impressed."

However, Carrell also admits that he finds this part of the job challenging sometimes.

"Balancing all of those things is difficult. The best part is also the hardest part. Changing gears and trying to relate and be effective in different levels is kind of hard for me."

Carrell is involved with research at ASU and has also been instrumental in creating an astronomy minor for students.

"This is the first year you can be an astronomy minor at ASU. We had talked about it when I was hired, and so Dr. Bixler and I worked together to put together three new classes and have a minor," he explained.

He also pointed out that the minor isn’t exclusively for science majors.

"Astronomy is one of those things a lot of people are interested in even from a young age, but most people lose that once they get to high school. A lot of our physics majors have interest in astrophysics. But one of our first minors right now is a communications major, but there’s still ways she can be involved in astronomy without directly being involved in science through outreach, communication, marketing and that kind of stuff."

One of Carrell’s main goals in teaching is to correct common misconceptions about astronomy. "What we find is that there are a lot of misconceptions about astronomy and the sky," he said. "Things about why the sky is blue, the validity of astrology and things like that. Most students who come to college don’t have a background in astronomy. I try to teach basic ideas and misconceptions in our news and media in the hopes that more people will realize that, while those things are entertaining, they aren’t always true."

Outside of ASU, Carrell spends time with his children, who motivate him to make a difference in young lives.

"I’ve got three kids, and they’re all in elementary school. They are another reason I try hard to inspire young people. I’m not trying to push any of them into what I like but to be exploring what they like and learning what they enjoy and enjoying learning in general."

Carrell advises students to communicate openly with professors and accept their help.

"I think students are sometimes scared to talk to professors or intimidated by them, but part of our job is not just teaching, but helping students finish their degrees and help ingthem get jobs too. Talk to your professors and ask questions; I take that part of my job seriously. It’s not just about teaching you for 50 minutes in class, it’s about helping you achieve what you want to achieve."

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