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Conference for Undergraduate Women in Astronomy (CUWiA) at West Virginia University

The inaugural Conference for Undergraduate Women in Astronomy (CUWiA) was held at West Virginia University (WVU) on November 1-3, 2019.  Fifty-eight women undergraduate students attended, representing 21 colleges and universities in 10 states (CT, FL, GA, MA, MD, NY, OH, PA, VA, WV). 

      CUWiA group photo

CUWiA audience photo          CUWiA group of six outdoors

CUWiA was formed to celebrate the women in Astronomy in West Virginia and beyond.  The idea for CUWiA came about while WVU undergraduates Olivia Young and Erica Chwalik were attending the 2018 APS Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP).  Their experience was such a positive one that it set the idea in motion to start CUWiA to bring women in astronomy together to learn about research and explore career and graduate opportunities.

Dr. Maura McLaughlin, a professor and researcher in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at WVU, was one of several speakers at the conference.  Dr. McLaughlin is co-founder of the Pulsar Search Collaboratory, a nation-wide program that gets middle and high school students involved in pulsar astronomy.  She is also Co-Director of the NANOGrav Physics Frontiers Center, a scientific collaboration working to use pulsars to detect gravitational waves. Dr. McLaughlin has recently been named one of Nature’s Top Ten People to Watch in 2019. 

Claudia Flores-Saviaga, a Ph.D. student in WVU’s Human Computer Interaction Lab in the Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, is a Fellow at Facebook Research and at the Oxford Internet Institute. Her research involves the areas of AI, crowdsourcing and social computing.  

Dr. Kathryn Williamson, a professor and researcher in WVU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy whose work focuses on astronomy outreach and education, gave a talk entitled “Why You Should Outreach.”

The keynote address was by the groundbreaking scientist Dr. Jocelyn Bell Burnell on her discovery of pulsars, or highly magnetized rotating neutron stars that emit beams of electromagnetic radiation, while a graduate student at the University of Cambridge. In recognition of the importance of her work, she received a Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics in 2018. Bell Burnell used the entirety of the $3 million prize to establish a scholarship for underrepresented students in physics research.

CUWiA group with Bell Burnell          CUWiA organizers with Bell Burnell

The CUWiA break out sessions were on Diversity in STEM, Mental Health, K-12 Mentoring in the Pulsar Search Collaboratory, and a CV, Resume, and Overleaf Workshop.  

Conference activities included a planetarium show, career panel, optical telescope observing, poster session, physics demos, and WVU Physics and Astronomy laboratory tours.  

                                  CUWiA poster session 

For more information, please visit the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Astronomy’s website.  

CUWiA would like to extend a sincere thank you to the generous 2019 conference sponsors, including:

  • West Virginia University Department of Physics and Astronomy

  • West Virginia University Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources

  • NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortium

  • West Virginia University Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

  • West Virginia University Research Corporation

  • West Virginia University Center for Gravitational Waves and Cosmology

  • West Virginia University's Chapter of the Society of Physics Students

  • WVU Science Public Outreach Team (SPOT)

Photo credits: Natalia Lewandowska