WILLIAMS BAY, WI — GLAS Education is entering its sixth year as an independent organization. It’s an amazing milestone for the educational non-profit, which was founded on Oct. 1, 2018, and endured the uncertainties of launching a new effort less than 18 months before the start of COVID. GLAS, which stands for Geneva Lake Astrophysics and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Education, grew out of the former University of Chicago Yerkes Observatory’s Yerkes Education Outreach (YEO).
YEO provided observing and educational events at Yerkes Observatory that included summer camp, astronomy and computing science research experiences for high school students, and a robust summer internship program for both local students and astrophysics majors from the University of Chicago. YEO was also the lead educational organization for five federally-funded educational research projects between 2003 and Oct. 1, 2018, when the university shut down operations at the observatory and initiated a search for a new owner.
Kate Meredith, who had been part of YEO since 1997 when she was still a classroom teacher and later became YEO director of education, founded GLAS with a group of Yerkes staff and volunteers who decided they did not want the YEO programs to die. With the assistance of the University of Chicago, they were able to transfer the education program from the observatory to rented space near the Williams Bay downtown. Since then, GLAS has moved to a new location about a mile west of Williams Bay on State Road 67.
From its beginning, GLAS Education has promoted science and astronomy education with connections that reach around the world. It is leading efforts to make science and astronomy education accessible to all, including people who are deaf/hard of hearing and blind/low vision.
GLAS provides a wide variety of programs and curricula for science and astronomy, including real-world projects with community impact, aimed at promoting dark skies and monitoring the shoreline environment of Geneva Lake. The students and interns at GLAS design and build electronic monitoring equipment. Despite the COVID year that started in 2000, more than 100 students have come to GLAS from area high schools including, but not limited to, Williams Bay, Faith Christian, BigFoot and Badger, where they were engaged in laboratory-based education projects. Many of those students are involved in the McQuown Scholarship program. Dozens of summer interns from the University of Chicago have also come to GLAS for further educational experiences and enrichment. This work encompasses many STEM skills including 3D modeling and printing, coding, and data management. In addition, students are responsible for presenting their results to the community and at national conferences. Financial support comes from national, state and area groups, ranging from the National Science Foundation, to the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium, to local clubs and civic organizations.
GLAS has upheld its long-standing tradition of making astronomy and science accessible to blind and low vision individuals that was begun at Yerkes Observatory in the late 1990s. This has led to GLAS being recognized with a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind and for founder and director Kate Meredith being named in a 2023 United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs report on “Sonification: A Tool for Research, Outreach, and Inclusion in Space Sciences.” Sonification is the process of turning visual data into sounds and tones that are immediately understandable to blind/low vision researchers. GLAS continues to lead the international Sonification World Chat that seeks to promote interdisciplinary collaboration on sonification tools. GLAS’s five-member board of directors, which includes scientists and educators, provides exemplary support and leadership in all aspects of GLAS’s mission.
For fun, GLAS does star parties, with telescopes and educational activities open to the public. GLAS has a portable planetarium that has visited elementary schools in the area, and made appearances in the Yerkes dome next to the 40-inch Great Refractor telescope. A summer tradition includes two Geneva Lake cruises during the Perseids meteor shower. Right now, GLAS is collaborating with Settlement House in Chicago to expand its reach to a wider audience and improve GLAS instructional programs.