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Department of Physics and Astronomy
logoLaura Penny/Physics and Astronomy
"Star" Teacher Says C of C Makes Sense
By Madison Kelly

"College of Charleston is so much more than the physics department to me" starts off Dr. Laura Penny. "It's about everyone else, the school, the community, not just science."

And Penny has made sure to give back more than just science as well, while teaching intro and upper division physics courses, specializing in astrophysics. Since her arrival in 1997, she has also served on the Faculty Welfare Committee and taught several general education science courses to students with various majors at the college.

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in physics from Trinity University in Texas, Penny went on to earn her master's in physics and her Pd.D in astrophysics from Georgia State University. She served a year of her post-doctorial fellowship in Quebec before joining the College of Charleston faculty in 1997. Recently she was promoted to full professor status.

"Charleston just made sense for me," Penny says. After her brief stint in Canada, she was eager to return to the warm South and teaching in Charleston offered her the opportunity to do just that. Originally from Atlanta, she was thrilled to return closer to home with her husband.

Now with three children, Penny values her job not only for its location but also ability to research and write without leaving the area. Just this past year, she has published two journal articles and one conference proceeding paper, all while still continuing to teach a full course load.

"One of the beauties of my job is the ability to study without leaving," she says. "The stars are everywhere, and with the use of satellites, I can conduct the studies I need to and moderate the stars I want all from my office."

When Penny wants to study a constellation, she can apply for a grant for a satellite to monitor the system she selects, for a certain amount of time and have the information sent to her. She can then decipher and publish the information without even leaving Charleston. She has used data and images gathered by the Hubble telescope and the FUSE satellite to help in her published research.

However, it's the impact on and interaction with her students that keep Penny in education.

"I loved her for my astronomy teacher freshman year," says senior Alyx Douglas. "She made the material engaging and easy to understand, even though I am not a science major."

Teaching to non-majors is something that Penny clearly enjoys and finds challenging. Her passion is contagious as she explains her delight in the overall learning experience for college students.

"I can clearly remember how I was at that age," Penny says, "just excited to be absorbing new material. I love exposing other majors to science. Even though these students might not have long term interest in the subject, it's really inspiring to watch them learn and grow from new perspectives to science."

Having recently received her tenure at the College of Charleston, Penny eagerly looks to her future at the school while enjoying her experience all the while. She is confident the stars will continue to guide her journey in Charleston.