East Tennessee State University’s December 2016 graduates are breathing a collective sigh of relief this week, reveling in the indescribable sense of freedom that comes when the weight of classes, studying, writing papers, completing group projects, and taking exams is first lifted from their shoulders. For most grads, that relief is fleeting as they enter the workforce or begin graduate school. For Hannah Greene, post-graduate life holds the excitement of a Peace Corps assignment.
Greene is scheduled to leave in March 2017 for Ukraine, where she will spend 27 months working with youth as part of an after-school program. At first glance, this opportunity may seem a bit removed from the collegiate experience of this Honors-in-Discipline graduate of ETSU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, but she will use many of the skills she has learned and sharpened through her degree program in her work in Ukraine.
When she first entered ETSU, Greene had such fields as psychology, art and languages in mind as potential majors. But when she looked over the course offerings for her general education credit in science, the astronomy course caught her eye.
“It’s something I’d always been interested in,” she said. “You can walk outside at night and see the night sky, but I never knew what was up there, so hearing that there was an astronomy class, I said, ‘Yes! Sign me up for that.’ Within a month of being in the astronomy program, I knew this was what I really wanted to do. The opportunity to have a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degree in something that I legitimately enjoyed seemed too beneficial to pass up.”
As a physics and astronomy major, Greene had the chance to work at ETSU’s Harry D. Powell Observatory as an astronomy lab assistant, which helped her to learn and develop skills in teaching.
“Working at the observatory, what I loved most was being able to see the wonder and the journey of discovery on the students’ faces as they came up here and did their labs and they, too, were exposed to this science that they never encountered in public high school,” she said. “Just getting to point to a place in the sky and say, ‘Hey, this is there – look at it in the telescope,’ and then see them come back from the eyepiece with such a look of amazement was really rewarding.
“I also got to help them with their lab assignments. Whenever they had a question or didn’t understand a concept, I could help them learn instead of necessarily telling them facts.”
That practice, Greene says, has already helped her in her job at the Hands On! Regional Museum, where she teaches children on various scientific topics.
“Every day, I come in and am presented with an educational topic, which I have to learn myself, and then give presentations to children throughout the day, teaching them about fun little scientific things they can see in their everyday lives,” she said. “Not only am I standing up there talking to them and teaching them, I’m also engaging them and helping them. I ask leading questions. I help them discover the answer instead of just laying it out in front of them.”
Not only will all of this experience be helpful to Greene in her upcoming assignment in Ukraine, it is a big part of what led her to pursue that opportunity to begin with.
“The Peace Corps is a program I’ve always been interested in, and coming to ETSU, expanding my educational horizon with physics and astronomy, and also seeing how rewarding it is to help other people be introduced to new things and help them grow, has only furthered my interest in the Peace Corps, so I applied to it,” she said. “I will help youth in the community to develop life skills and help them learn how to interact in an environment that’s not necessarily like their rural village, so, while this isn’t really applicable to my STEM degree, it still fulfills – gives me that satisfaction of helping people learn new skills and ways to better their lives and be introduced to new things.”
Many possibilities await Greene when she returns from Ukraine. She finds the prospect of graduate study in astronomy appealing, as it would give her a chance to work once again in an observatory setting, and her future career options might include teaching at the high school level or working as a museum curator.
Greene, a native of Johnson City who chose ETSU for its location and affordability, finds that some of the scientific and mathematic principles she has learned in school come into play in her pastimes, which include numerous physically engaging activities.
“I enjoy sewing,” she says. “Not only am I working with my hands, but it is also a geometric challenge, figuring out which shapes will go together and what dimensions I need to cut these pieces of fabric into to make what I want. I also enjoy cooking – there’s a little bit of chemistry in there – and health is a pretty big part of my life, so I garden and get some of my veggies from there. I like to have things to take care of, so a nice little flower bed is something I can be meticulous about.”The importance of taking care of oneself, also, is something Greene has learned through college. “I never realized just how important it would be to take time for myself,” she said. “Taking one full day per week to relax, I think, is an essential part of your college career. However much you need to study and be in class and read up outside of the scheduled class hours, it is important to take time for yourself.”