Emily Sisco, interim Dark Sky coordinator at GLAS Education, former Yerkes Observatory intern, long-time GLAS volunteer, 3D printing expert, and talented cook is leaving for the University of Massachusetts Amherst where she will be a Ph.D. candidate in German.Asked how she felt about Emily’s departure, Kate Meredith, president and director of GLAS, replied: “Weepingly sad.”
Adam McCulloch, GLAS education and outreach manager, said Emily’s departure means GLAS is losing a key cog in its operations. “It’s going to slow down a lot of 3D printing and a lot of accessibility tasks,” Adam said. “I’ll be playing with the 3D printers a lot more. The Dark Sky program will also have to go on the back burner for a little while until GLAS can hire a full-time director in the fall,” he said.
Kate and Emily have known each other since 2018, when Emily, then a student at the University of Chicago, applied for an internship at Yerkes Observatory. Kate was director of the Yerkes Education Outreach program. “She was the very first person we interviewed,” Kate said. She hired Emily immediately. Emily spent the summer of 2018 managing the 24-inch reflector telescope at Yerkes.
Unfortunately, Emily was hired at nearly the same time that the University of Chicago announced that it would close the observatory to the public in October that year. When Kate then moved the Yerkes education program into the nonprofit GLAS Education, Emily followed along and worked as an intern supervisor in 2021. Emily demonstrated her cooking chops when she prepared the Friday meals for the interns.
Adam’s friendship with Emily started at Yerkes while they were working at the Observatory. Emily taught him how to operate the 24-inch reflector telescope. That friendship continued at GLAS, where the two sat across from each other in the office.“We help each other out constantly,” Adam said. “We use each other as a sounding board.” Emily’s decision to move on did not come as a surprise. “We knew it was coming. She wanted to be somewhere doing fun work before grad school.” Adam believes that Emily’s decision to earn a Ph.D. is a good one. “Whatever she chooses to do, she’s one of those people who puts everything into it,” Adam said.
According to Kate, Emily’s contribution this year has been considerable. She’s worked on improving the output of GLAS’s 3D printers, which create tactile images for the blind and visually impaired. She helped with the plug plate project and when former Dark Sky director Danielle Eng left for her dream job in engineering, Emily took over and continued GLAS’s Dark Sky project.
Emily has a degree in astrophysics from the University of Chicago, and her mastery of 3D printers is a clue to her technical expertise. A native of Oklahoma, Emily said her family has many connections to the Midwest, including an aunt who lives in the Chicago area. “It was never a big deal for me going to Chicago,” she said. “I’ve grown up going to Chicago all my life. Chicago is my favorite city in the world. I’ll miss it.”
With a background in hard science and astrophysics, Emily’s decision to earn a doctorate in German might come as a bit of surprise. “I had been wanting to study astrophysics since I was in 10th grade,” Emily said, but In her second year at the university, Emily took a German class on a teacher’s recommendation. “I had never taken a foreign language before,” Emily said. “I absolutely fell in love with the language. Learning a new language opens up new viewpoints and understanding through a different culture,” she said. “It’s a way to get to know people. It’s not just an American viewpoint,” she said. This is not a family thing. Emily said she is aware of just one German in her family tree. “I have a German ancestor who moved to England in the 1870s,” she said.She decided to go to the University of Massachusetts Amherst because it has an excellent German program and a collection of rare German films, which she finds fascinating.
While earning her degree in astrophysics in Chicago, Emily immersed herself in the German language and culture. “In the summer of 2019 I visited Germany and lived in Aachen and then went to Munich,” Emily said. She also spent a month in Berlin, but the COVID crisis cut that visit short and also canceled a four-month visit to Vienna in 2020. With travel restrictions now relaxed in Europe, Emily is already planning her Christmas trip to Vienna.
However, she hasn’t forgotten her astrophysics background. Emily plans on giving astronomy talks at area observatories and working at local planetariums. She found out that her Amherst roommate is a Ph.D. candidate in astrophysics. They’ll have a lot to talk about.
For Kate, there is hope that Emily’s separation from GLAS will not be permanent. “She does have a tendency to come back,” Kate said.Emily confirmed that she and Kate have already talked about maintaining some ties. “Kate and I have talked about giving me a 3D printer,” Emily said. She plans to return to Williams Bay from time to time when she has breaks from her Ph.D. studies.
GLAS will get along without Emily, but there will be a slight limp. Asked how GLAS will be able to fill Emily’s shoes, Kate simply said: “They’re not getting filled. She made herself indispensable.”