Staff Spotlight: Steve Sanders

Observatory Administrator at Eastern

At the risk of sounding like an Eastern University advert, Steve Sanders, resident star nerd and astronomy sage, raves about our school’s community: “The reason why I love it here? Community, community, community; it’s why I’m still here.”

If you’ve contemplated the heavens in any of Dr. Bradstreet’s classes or witnessed the Star of Bethlehem in the Julia Fowler Planetarium, you’ve probably spotted Sanders. Unassuming yet wonderfully effusive, he works as the Observatory Administrator for the tremendously accomplished Dr. Bradstreet, professor of astronomy and physics, director of Eastern’s planetarium and observatory, and global expert in binary star research.

Before Sanders began working at Eastern, he was a student. From 1997 to 2001, he studied English literature under the auspices of Betsy Morgan and amongst other compassionate students such as Shane Claiborne. As a prospective student, Sanders searched for small universities that could cater to his love for baseball and astronomy; he did not profess the faith. Rather, the newly built Bradstreet Observatory and Eastern’s athletics department drew him in. He says of his first time meeting Dr. Bradstreet, “He had fifteen minutes when my family and I went up to the observatory, and honest to goodness we talked for around an hour. He skipped faculty meetings and other important things to be with me and my family. . . .The excitement he showed me trumped every other school.”

Two nights into his freshman year, Sanders’ excitement for astronomy and baseball was replaced by the Gospel. “I became a Christian, and the next day I dropped the astronomy major, and I dropped baseball,” he admits. Worried that either pursuit might become God for him, he ultimately decided to major in English literature and minor in astronomy. So how did someone who virtually stopped pursuing astronomy come back to work in Eastern’s astronomy and physics department?

After graduating, Sanders was temping for various corporations when, he explains excitedly, he received an e-mail informing him that his current position was open. He was quickly hired by Dr. Bradstreet and began his work with the astronomy department, the Julia Fowler Planetarium, and the Bradstreet Observatory in 2002. He’s been working at Eastern for 12 years now.

When asked what he does on a daily basis, Sanders casually says, “I get to look at stars with students all the time.” On a typical day, he gets to work around 10 a.m. and stays until about 10 p.m., if he’s not doing research for Dr. Bradstreet. In a week, there are four nights dedicated to astronomy students, one night for the general public and one night for research. Sanders assists with all three, making sure the astronomy students are using the telescopes properly, the general public is satisfied with a planetarium show/star tour and Dr. Bradstreet is happy with the data he’s collected in one night. For the astronomy students, the observatory is a refuge, a place where the heavens can be seen, conversation is open and inhibitions are down. Sanders says, “I find it to be a sacred place….There is trust here. We can…talk about things you wouldn’t talk about in a classroom.” With Sanders present, the observatory becomes a safe place where students can see the beauty of the cosmos and the beauty of Eastern’s community.

Sanders also does binary star research for Dr. Bradstreet. Sanders explains, “Basically, I stay up from the time the sun goes down to the time the sun comes up and look at stars. I set the telescopes up, and then I babysit them because everything’s computerized.” The astronomy buff never mentioned that his job was easy; it requires a lot of lone nights manning very technical equipment and collecting very precise data.

With the help of Sanders and a variety of other students, the astronomy and physics department has recently observed four new binary stars and plans to continue its innovative endeavors. Suffice it to say, Eastern can expect great things from Sanders in the future.

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