Position: Director of Christenberry Planetarium
Working at Samford since 2014
Bonus fact: Weigel built the mountain bike he uses for his outdoor adventures.
What is your favorite thing about your job at Samford? I thoroughly enjoy interacting with people. In my (almost) three years at Samford, I’ve seen around 19,000 people come to our events and spoken to almost all of them. I get to engage with people who are 3 years old up to 103 years old. Explaining complex black hole astrophysics to a second grader is just as fun—honestly probably more fun—as explaining it to a Ph.D. candidate. I love taking complicated astronomical concepts, conveying them to my specific audience in a way that is understandable and sharing why science is so exciting!
What is one thing your colleagues may not know about you? I’d guess so many things since I sit by myself in a dark, windowless office every day. To be fair, [the planetarium] has to be the coolest venue on campus. Literally, it’s freezing! I play intramural sports, mostly flag football and soccer, on student teams that have even won the championship. I scored the winning goal in soccer. It is a great way for me to relax from long work hours and also interact with students outside the professional environment. This, in turn, builds a different type of respect and allows greater outreach for the planetarium to the student body as an added bonus.
What is your favorite hobby? My favorite hobby is definitely rock climbing. I climb 3–5 days a week, inside and outside. In the past year, I have climbed in Yosemite and Grand Teton national parks. I’m already looking forward to the next adventure. I really love being outside, especially in the mountains. I’m always game to mountain bike, snowboard, hike, play soccer or football, you name it.
How did your background prepare you for your current role at Samford? Ever since I could think, I’ve been enthralled by the unknown of space. I crave adventure and exploration, and the biggest frontier is right before us. To appease my interest, I immerse myself in anything I can read or do to pursue this knowledge. My other passion involves interacting with other people. So, a job in which I can learn about the universe and then share this knowledge with other people to get them interested seems like an excellent match! I also studied physics and space physics. These things tend to help, I suppose.
What, specifically, does your job involve? My position is multifaceted. I develop science visualizations in WorldWide Telescope, our free planetarium software, and produce live and interactive planetarium shows from scratch. I market our events to the Samford community and beyond using a mix of social media platforms, word of mouth and often shameless self-promotion to everyone I meet. Of course, the final step is to present a polished finished product. In my spare time, I develop science visualizations in virtual reality using our Oculus Rift headset and teach workshops/write tutorials on how to use WorldWide Telescope. It keeps me very busy but it is extremely fun!
What makes Samford’s Christenberry Planetarium so important for the university and the community? Christenberry Planetarium provides immersive events that are both educational and exciting, and this is a huge draw to the Samford student body and the greater Birmingham community. We attract people to campus who wouldn’t otherwise visit and give them a taste of the Samford tradition of excellence. We further inspire an excitement in STEM fields, particularly astronomy, and encourage the pursuit of STEM study with us at Samford. Christenberry Planetarium employs students throughout the year, providing a unique experience in astronomy research and education, computer science, public relations, virtual reality, and data analysis and visualization. We offer an immersive environment for data visualization across disciplines for professors to utilize in their classes.
What is the best piece of advice you were ever given and by whom? Throughout my childhood, my parents instilled in me the mentality to persevere in the face of adversity. The key point is not to persevere at the expense of others, but rather to love unconditionally and build others up with you. This has served me very well in every aspect of my life—my position at Samford, in friendships, in sports, in marriage, in my faith—and it is something I try to instill in my students as well.
ABOUT SAMFORD UNIVERSITY -- Samford University is a premier nationally ranked private university deeply rooted in its Christian mission. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th oldest institution of higher education in the United States. U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 3rd among regional universities in the South. Samford enrolls 5,509 students from 45 states, the District of Columbia and 29 other countries in its 10 academic units: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy, and public health. Samford also fields 17 NCAA Division I teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference.