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Science, Discovery and the Universe News

Science, Discovery and the Universe Scholars Program to Close After Successful 25-Year Run

College Park Scholars has announced that, after 25 years of providing students with an interdisciplinary curriculum examining the role of science in society, the Science, Discovery and the Universe (SDU) Scholars program will close at the end of this academic year. The decision was made by mutual agreement between College Park Scholars and the Department of Astronomy, which sponsors the program.

group of students at museum

"The Department of Astronomy has enjoyed many wonderful years of exploring the universe together with students in Science, Discovery and the Universe,” said Department of Astronomy Chair and Professor Andrew I. Harris. “We are proud of our Scholars and instructors and all that they have accomplished. We close out our program on a high note and look forward to the new program that takes its place.”

SDU was launched in College Park Scholars in 1997, making it the ninth of what eventually became 12 programs. Using astronomy as the primary lens through which students examined what science is and how it’s abused in society, SDU became the happy home for self-described nerds. Students geeked out on “Star Parties” at the UMD Observatory and weekend trips to West Virginia’s Green Bank Radio Observatory while developing their critical thinking skills in exploring the daily role science plays in people’s lives. SDU fostered interdisciplinarity and encouraged students to become advocates for science.

“Science, Discovery, and Universe was the perfect opportunity to connect with UMD, think about modern topics, and re-discover my interest in astronomy," David Oguh, a SDU Scholars program alum said. “SDU enabled me to learn about and build my community, and the experiences I had under SDU gave me a sense of belonging at UMD." 

Inability to sustain program under changing circumstances

In February of 2022, however, the program reached a challenging crossroads. Director Alan Peel announced he would step down from his post after 15 years with the program and leave the University of Maryland at the end of the academic year. With no obvious successor on the horizon, SDU didn’t admit a first-year cohort for the Fall 2022 semester. SDU Assistant Director Erin Thomson stepped in as interim director to guide the sophomore cohort through its second year.

two students smile in front of liberty bell

“I am incredibly grateful to Astronomy for its support of SDU, to Former Director Alan Peel for his innovations as a teacher and his care as a leader, and to Interim Director Erin Thomson for skillfully managing the program in its final year,” said Marilee Lindemann, executive director of College Park Scholars.

College Park Scholars and the Department of Astronomy took the time during this academic year to consider possible future scenarios for SDU. Unfortunately, with Astronomy having limited resources and a small faculty, both parties concluded they could not find a viable path forward for the program.

“This was a tough decision,” said Lindemann. “We are proud of what SDU provides students—from its curriculum, which challenges students to think critically and question commonly accepted norms in science, to its community, which has provided friendship and a support network to hundreds of students over the years. We simply couldn’t find a way to sustain it as circumstances changed.

“We will continue to ensure that the College Park Scholars program evolves to meet student needs and remains a strong and vibrant part of the UMD undergraduate experience.”

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