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Professor and Student Reconnect Through the Stars

Posted February 22, 2017


 Julio Ramos and Professor Gary Swangin.

The stars are smiling on Professor Gary Swangin these days.  Recently, the astronomy professor was stunned to learn that a new planetarium in Afghanistan was to be named after him, a remarkable expression of gratitude by a former student for the impact Professor Swangin had on his life.
(Read the story here)

Then, just last month, the past caught up with him again.  Walking into his first class of the semester, Professor Swangin was surprised by one student who jumped up and shouted, “I know you. You came to my sixth grade class at School 30.”

“At first, I didn’t recall that visit,” said the professor, who had presented many school programs over the years.  Yet, when he spoke further with the student, Julio Ramos, the memories from 10 years earlier returned.

“Julio was the sixth grader whose enthusiasm went way beyond the normal,” said Professor Swangin, laughing. Now 21, and still exuberant, Julio clearly recalls the presentation about the solar system that day at his elementary school. 

“I had stage fright when the time came to ask questions,” said Julio, “but he (Professor Swangin) encouraged me to keep going and ask my question.”  The sixth grader asked, “When a sun dies, does it turn into a white dwarf?”

Professor Swangin never expected that kind of question, especially from a youngster. “Most people have misconceptions about the eventual death of the sun,” he explained.  “It's very unusual for a six grader to come up with the correct answer. I was so impressed with his question that I later sent him a letter thanking him for his participation.”

A 2015 graduate of John F. Kennedy High School, Julio has had a lifelong interest in science and is now a physics major at PCCC. “But I always loved astronomy,” he said. “My father had a telescope when I was about 7 years old, and I was amazed when I looked into it.” 
When he saw an astronomy course offered this semester, Julio immediately registered, but he had no idea he would encounter the teacher who had made such an impression on him in sixth grade. “He’s real,” says Julio of Professor Swangin. “His lectures really get into the subject, and you can tell he’s passionate about what he’s teaching.”

If anyone knows passion, it’s Julio. Excitable, enthusiastic, and energetic, he can hardly contain himself when he talks of his goal to one day enhance travel speed through jet propulsion. “It’s so cool, so fantastic,” he says.

“Astronomy taught me that whatever you see now is already history,” says Julio.  For Professor Swangin, there’s a slight twist: the present moment is actually the future of students who were influenced by his history with them.

Read more about the Afghanistan planetarium named for Professor Swangin