Education Without Boundaries
In his own small way, Goucher College student Owen Lehmer '13 is helping the Hubble Space Telescope team find new planets and discover dark energy.
Lehmer, a mathematics and computer science major/astronomy minor, interns twice a week at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, home to the science program for the famed telescope launched in 1990. At the institute he is working on a software-based problem report system for telescopes, including the Hubble.
When the college's Career Development Office sent a message about the internship, which blends his two academic pursuits, Lehmer was quick to respond. He said the experience has been fun because he's seen hard work paying off when he sees his changes pop up on the system. "I was originally scheduled for a semester, but they said I could stay for a year," he said.
Lehmer's path to working on software for telescopes hasn't been a straight shot. It was through introductory computer courses at Goucher that he really started to enjoy the computer side of mathematics. He even began volunteering for supplemental activities to bolster his understanding of the subject.
For example, he joined teams to compete in the Associated Computing Machine (ACM) Programming Contest, as well as in the Cyber Security Challenge at the Maryland Cyber Challenge & Conference (MDC3). For the challenge, kind of a hacking competition, the team was to perform a "crime scene" forensic analysis of a computer that had been compromised, determining what had happened, who had mounted the attack, and what the attackers had done once they had circumvented the computer's defenses. "It's pretty exciting," Lehmer said.
He said Associate Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Tom Kelliher regularly takes students to events, which he thinks exemplifies the commitment and knowledge of the faculty he's gotten to know. "The amount that the faculty here knows on their subjects is amazing," Lehmer said. "So it's nice that they have their offices open. If the door is open, it's fair game."
All his activities aren't academic, though. Lehmer has been involved with Goucher Ultimate, the college's coed ultimate Frisbee team. And he runs the 400 and 800 meter and throws the javelin for the Goucher Gopher's track team. "I really enjoy the forced exercise," he said.
He also is part of a male chorus in the Goucher Opera Workshop, even taking a voice class this year, along with participating in the Goucher Chamber Music class and performing clarinet at campus events. "It's been really, really busy," he said.
Goucher is a place where students can be as busy, or as focused, as they want, with more than 60 student clubs and organizations, along with other recreational and academic opportunities.
One opportunity Lehmer said he might not have had if he had been somewhere else was his recent stint abroad. Lehmer spent the summer of 2011 not in his Maine hometown of Freeport, but instead exploring astronomy and language in Granada, Spain.
The study-abroad program in which he participated is a joint effort of the Physics and Astronomy Department and the Department of Hispanic Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. For the program, students stay with host families in the city, known for its rich culture and astronomical history. In addition to the astronomy and Spanish-language lessons, the course includes fieldtrips to historical sites, cultural events, and a weekend retreat to a mountain resort for dark-sky observations. Lehmer said he was an hour from the Mediterranean, but he had been attracted to the trip for the astronomy portion of the study.
"I'm glad they do require it," he said of the college's policy to have every undergraduate study abroad. "I had never really thought about it — it takes time; it's expensive... . I wouldn't have done it otherwise."