Alumni Association Names Geller Faculty Member of the Year

Posted: April 17, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Each year, the George Mason University Alumni Association recognizes and honors outstanding alumni, students and faculty members for their achievements and contributions to the university during its Celebration of Distinction. This year, the association selected Harold Geller, term assistant professor of physics and astronomy, as Faculty Member of the Year.

Harold Geller
Harold Geller

This spring, after almost 16 years of teaching in Mason’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, Harold Geller finally received a Boy Scout merit badge in astronomy.

It was given to him by a group of Scouts who came to visit the new observatory on the Fairfax Campus. They were just one of many groups with whom Geller has shared his knowledge of the night skies.

Geller’s office is decorated with hand-drawn thank-you notes from local schoolchildren, including inventive pop-ups designs of the observatory and the solar system.

“I learned loads!” one of the letters exclaims. Many of these cards were included in his nomination package for 2008 Faculty Member of the Year.

In addition to the courses he teaches each semester, Geller keeps busy hosting observing sessions and lecturing to groups such as the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and local amateur astronomy groups.

Among those commending Geller for his work is the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC).

“Our public outreach activities reach thousands of people each year. I think it is absolutely fair to say that this level of success simply wouldn’t be possible without Harold’s efforts,” writes the NOVAC president Phillip Wherry. “He really understands the value of science education both inside and outside the classroom.”

A Mason alumnus, Geller completed his MAIS degree in 1992 and joined Mason’s faculty as an adjunct. He became a full-time faculty member in 2000 and completed his doctoral studies, also at Mason, in 2005. He is currently the associate chair of the department.

Several years ago, Geller and colleague George Taylor, Earth Systems and Geoinformation Science, designed the first astrobiology course taught at Mason. Geller continues to teach the class each semester. He recently published “Astrobiology — The Integrated Science Curriculum,” a book for faculty interested in teaching the course. He has also developed the graduate course, Astronomy for Teachers.

“Harold is the most dedicated teacher I have ever had the good fortune to work with,” writes Eugenie Mielczarek, Mason Professor Emeritus of Physics. “He challenges [his students] to understand astronomy as a science and not just an easy way to fill a degree requirement, an impossible task in a lecture hall with a class numbering in the hundreds.”

Over the years, Geller has become the keeper of the observatory archives and history. He has folders dating back to the early 1980s showing correspondence, photos, plans and requests regarding observing the night sky at Mason.

He designed, developed and raised funds for the construction of the university’s new observatory (its third, he will remind you), which will house a 32-inch Ritchey Chrétien telescope that is being custom-built for the university. And he, along with many others on and off campus, anxiously awaits its delivery later this year.

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