Outreach Director


  • Planning and organizing the Public Lecture Series
  • Scheduling Lecturers and Volunteers for the Lecture Series
  • Updating the website and wiki to reflect news
  • Sending out emails to the public outreach list and updating the website on lecture days
  • Hold an outreach volunteer meeting once a semester
  • Filling in the gaps left by other officers
  • Time commitment ~ 10 hours / week (on average, it's more some weeks, less others)

Instructions for Various Tasks

When you assume the role

  • Ask David Secrest to add you to the outreach-owners group on the configured workstations. This will allow you to write/save/delete comment on the outreach website.
  • Get the standard outreach password from the previous Outreach Director. This password should work on most of our accounts (outreach-volunteers, twitter, public email list, etc.)
  • Get David Secrest to add you (and the Visiting Groups Officer) to the outreach-admin email alias, so that mail sent to this address is forwarded to you.
  • Get the previous Outreach Director to add you as an admin to the Columbia Astronomy Facebook Group.
  • Change the Observatory phone number on the Outreach Contact Us Website to go to your office.

At the Beginning of Each Semester (or well before)

Create a Lecture Schedule

  • About 2 months before the semester is to begin, you need to sit down and figure out the appropriate dates and times for the lecture/stargazing nights.
    • Use our outreach observational resources page to determine what time the sun sets and rises from our location, as well as the phase of the moon on potential observing nights.
    • The schedule should always be set on Friday nights, and ideally they should be every other week on the first quarter and third quarter moons. Of course, the lunar calendar isn't exactly 4 weeks long, so usually there needs to be a phase shift in the schedule at some point during the semester (1 or 3 weeks between two lectures instead of 2).
    • Make sure that it will be dark enough to observe the sky when the stargazing begins. Usually this means starting at 7PM throughout the winter (ie when daylight savings is off), starting at 8PM in the spring and fall, and starting at 9PM during the summer. Double check with the link above to confirm this. There's nothing worse than "starting" to star-gaze in the middle of twilight and having nothing to show people on the roof because it is too bright (lots of awkward conversation).
    • Stargazing sessions should last 2 hours. 30 minutes for the lecture followed by 90 minutes for slideshows and observing.
    • Check your schedule against the school calendar (try to avoid winter break, spring break, thanksgiving and other holidays), the departmental schedule (try to avoid astrofest/feast or major departmental events), and astronomical calendars (try to get your schedule to coincide with major astronomical events like eclipses, alignments, etc.).
    • We typically have about 8 stargazing nights per semester (including the summer as a third semester).
  • Once you've determined the schedule, get lecturers to sign up for individual nights.
    • Look over the departmental directory to figure out who would be a good public lecturer (loud enough, confident enough, good at explaining, etc.)
    • Make sure you don't get people to speak who have done so in the last two calendar years (eg if you're doing the spring 2011 schedule, don't use people who've gone more recently than spring 2009).
    • Ask a few on your list and give them the dates open. Have them sign up initially, but let them know that you're going to need a title and abstract in the coming week or two. We want to have all of the titles and abstracts at the beginning of the semester so we can advertise and make the posters in advance.
    • Repeat until the lecture schedule is full.
    • Get the titles and abstracts.
  • Once you have a lecture schedule with dates, lecturers, titles and abstracts
    • Update the wiki in the talks section and in the outreach section using past semesters as a guide.
    • Send the schedule listing to the Design Officer so that he/she can make a schedule poster and individual event posters.
    • Send the schedule listing to the PR Officer so that he/she can publicize the events in various news media.
    • Update the google calendar on the outreach website to contain all of the events for the semester.
      • Go to http://calendar.google.com
      • Log in using astro.outreach@gmail.com and the standard password.
      • Find the appropriate dates and times, click on each and add the relevant details (title, date, time, location, duration, etc.)
      • Follow old examples if you are unclear on the layout.
  • Once the Design Officer has crafted a schedule poster
    • Post it on the website in the calendar section.
    • Write an email to the public outreach list informing them of the new schedule with appropriate links to the website.
    • Go to the Amsterdam Village Copier and have them print out a 18"x24" copy of the schedule (~$30)--you will of course get reimbursed for this.
    • Contact Rose Razaghian (rr222@columbia.edu) and Kristen Schneider (ks2642@columbia.edu) asking if it is possible to post the large schedule poster in the Science Display Case on College Walk.
    • Bring the copy to Rose's office in Low, and check in a week to make sure they actually put it up (they've taken 3+ weeks in the past if you don't pester).

Hold an outreach meeting

  • Hold an outreach meeting to get volunteers to staff the events
    • Ask Millie if there is money in the budget to pay for food for the outreach meeting.
    • Determine what events will happen over the course of the semester remembering the Friday night open houses, Family Astro (if you've got a coordinator), Sidewalk Astronomy (ditto), Rooftop Variables, Middle School Presentations, and school group tours. Make sure this is covered in the meeting.
    • Make sure everyone is aware of the different roles and ways that they can volunteer over the course of the semester. Encourage people to take on leadership positions.
    • Get some of the more-experienced telescope users to mentor and train some of the less-experienced telescope users. This is usually done formally in September and more informally during the rest of the year.
    • Ask for feedback form the volunteers in attendance.
    • After the schedule is updated on the wiki, send an e-mail to the outreach-volunteers@astro.columbia.edu list thanking the volunteers and reminding them of what they agreed to.

Updating the Outreach Website

  • To get to this content on a CW, go to /home/cal/groups/www/outreach.astro.columbia.edu .
  • The main index.html file is the main page for the site, and all the subpages have their own directories with unique index.html files.
  • Make sure any new files you put in here have the permissions 775 (rwx for owner and group members, rx for all. chmod 775 <file>). Also if you create a new file, change it's group to outreach-owners, so that other group members can edit it too (chgrp outreach-owners <file>).
  • If you're going to make significant changes, it is recommended that you make a new copy of the html file to edit and test before switching it to the live copy (i.e. rather than changing index.html and seeing if it works, copy index.html to backup.html, edit backup.html, confirm in a browser it looks like you want it, then mv backup.html index.html).

A week or two before the lecture

  • Start a facebook event from the the Columbia Astronomy Outreach Facebook Group with the following information:
    • Event date
    • Start time
    • End time
    • Catchy title
    • Location: Pupin Hall
    • Address: 550 W. 120th Street
    • City: New York, NY, USA
    • Description including the abstract, plan for the evening (half hour lecture, 90 minutes of observing), link to the directions page: http://bit.ly/bYzq2M , and the standard boilerplate message for the end of all messages: Remember, all of our events are free and open to all. The lectures are aimed at the level of the layperson, so children should get something out of them too. Stay only as long as you want. Bring warm clothes for windy and cold conditions on the roof. For directions to the observatory and information about our other events, please visit: http://outreach.astro.columbia.edu .
    • Upload an image.
    • Invite all the members of the group, keep the event open to anyone to RSVP, but keep the list of attendees private (that requires UNCHECKING the box).
  • Remember to check, from time-to-time, the messages being posted to the group and the event to answer any questions that people have.
  • The day of the event, post the weather update information to the wall of the event and message all the attendees with the same e-mail sent out to the e-mail list.

The day of the lecture

Send out emails to the public outreach list and update the website on/after lecture days

  • On the day of a scheduled Lecture/Stargazing event, look at the weather forecast, and talk to the Lecture Captain/Roof Captain about the chance of observing.
  • Update the main Outreach Website page with a weather update (you can oftentimes just commend and uncomment the html) to reflect the forecast.
  • Draft an email to the public reminding them of the event and updating them on the weather conditions.
  • Use a past public update email as reference (some can be found here). Make sure you mention:
    • Date and time of tonight's event (sometimes the date has been left out in the past and people get confused)
    • Lecture details (title, lecturer, abstract, etc.)
    • Weather Update and Potential Targets
    • Slideshows or 3D wall or Swag? Up to you.
    • When/Title/Lecturer of next event
    • Final Paragraph with Directions/Instructions: Remember, all of our events are free and open to all. The lectures are aimed at the level of the layperson, so children should get something out of them too. Stay only as long as you want. Bring warm clothes for windy and cold conditions on the roof. For directions to the observatory and information about our other events, please visit: http://outreach.astro.columbia.edu .
  • Send this email out to the public outreach list (columbia-astronomy-public-outreach@googlegroups.com) from the outreach-admin account.
  • Send this email out to the outreach-volunteers@astro.columbia.edu list and the astro-events@astro.columbia.edu list if you're feeling spicy.
  • Send this email as a message to all attendees of the facebook event. If you do not have a facebook account, you can use the astro.outreach@gmail.com account <standard pw> to post it.
  • Send a truncated update to the Columbia Astronomy Outreach Twitter Feed. Login: columbiaastro password: <standard pw>.

The day after the lecture

  • Update the website with the next scheduled lecture (time, date, lecturer, poster, etc.) The new poster should already be in the images/Posters directory.
  • You should receive an email from the Lecture Captain with a description of the event. Post this to the outreach Past Events page wiki. Login:astro.outreach@gmail.com password:<standard pw>. You can post-date it (in the publishing options) if you forget to post it in time.

All the time

Responding to Phone and Email Messages

  • You (and your officemates) are now responsible for answering the Observatory Phone Line. It tends to ring most frequently on scheduled lecture days. I suggest posting a lecture schedule next to the phone.
  • You and the Visiting Group Officer will are expected to respond to the emails sent to the outreach-admin email address.

Outreach Accounts


username: astro.outreach@gmail.com
password: <standardpwd>


username: ColumbiaAstro?
password: <standardpwd>


username: astro.outreach@gmail.com
password: <standardpwd>

Networked Blogs

username: astro.outreach@gmail.com
password: <standardpwd>


username: astro.outreach@gmail.com
password: <standardpwd>