An accompanying article in the Empire-Tribune today is about some remarkable resources in our community that are important components in Tarleton State University’s Program for Astronomy Education and Research. In particular those resources include the observatory used by Tarleton students - which is the third-largest in Texas - as well as the planetarium that’s such a great tool for teaching kids at the kindergarten level and above, all about space. The director of the program is Dr. Shaukat N. Goderya, PhD, a native of Pakistan who has been in love with the heavens since childhood.

Asked when his interest in astronomy and physics began, Goderya said, “I remember very clearly that when I was around eight or nine years old, I found an old camera lens in our home that I would use to look at the full moon, and I began to wonder what all those different structures were on the moon. My real interest in Astronomy began when I was in 9th or 10th grade, when my dad bought me a book on the solar system for summer reading,” he said.

“My dad was a book reader and had a regular subscription of National Geographic, Time, and some other magazines and had collected the whole encyclopedia Britannica. That definitely influenced all of us in the family. There was very little TV and there were no computers so you read books and magazines or whatever you could get hold of at that time. When I read the book on the solar system, I was so excited and thrilled that I asked my dad if he could buy me a telescope.

“Later, when he traveled abroad he remembered my request and when he saw one in a shop, he bought me a small refractor telescope, an atlas, and a Planisphere. That was the start of my life with Astronomy.”

Goderya explains where he went from that pivotal moment, “As years went by I got more and more engrossed in the subject and decided I would make astronomy my career. I was not particularly gifted in math and physics but realized that to be an astronomer I would have to be good in math and physics. I did a lot of my own schooling and studies and made sure I was always did very well in both of these subjects.

“So since high school I only had one goal: How to become an astronomer? I entered college as physics major, did very well, and decided to come to US for graduate studies in Physics and Astronomy,” he said.

Asked about his role models, Goderya replied, “I would say my primary role model was my dad. He never went to school beyond the fourth grade, but I was amazed with what he had accomplished in his life. He was a successful business man and did exemplary community service.”

Goderya said that his decision to come to Tarleton to teach was an easy one. “I had applied to several schools for faculty positions but when I interviewed at Tarleton and saw their observatory plans and building, I was immediately hooked. Our biggest strength is the direct access to a research-grade telescope that we provide to undergraduate students. Not many schools do that. At some schools even graduate students don’t get that opportunity. The telescope is completely remote controllable and Tarleton is among the very few schools that have such a big telescope for an undergraduate-only institution.”

Goderya was awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholar Program grant for 2012-2013. The award, which is part of the Council for International Exchange of Scholars, has supported his efforts to develop an astronomy research program in Pakistan that started in the fall of 2012.