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Carter fosters interest in space science and MSU

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    "The Space Science Center, the human resources and the programs are some of the greatest assets that we have in all of Eastern Kentucky, not just Morehead. The students have been empowered through the class so that when they get in that building, they feel comfortable with it. They feel empowered to be successful in those programs." – Jen Carter (03)
If someone ever told Jen Carter (03) to “reach for the stars,” it was definitely a bit of advice she took to heart.

Carter’s passion is for a subject that’s literally out of this world: space science. She may not have suited up to become an astronaut, but as an astronomy teacher at Rowan County Senior High School, she’s not only helping students develop an interest in space science – she’s also giving them a launching pad to make it their career through her collaboration with the MSU Space Science program.

For Carter, her fascination with the stars started at an early age. Growing up in Olive Hill, Ky., she fondly remembers her mother taking her outside to lay on the picnic table watching eclipses and meteor showers – sometimes in a sleeping bag with a cup of hot chocolate on chillier nights.

Her desire to be an astronomer stuck with her as she graduated from Rowan County Senior High School and enrolled at MSU. Carter worked toward a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics with no real way to pursue her space science aspirations. It was after completing her degree that the University established its Space Science Program and opened its state-of-the-art Space Science Center.

The timing wasn’t exactly right for Carter to get a degree in space science. However, as she returned to MSU to earn her Master of Arts in Teaching in physics, she saw in the program not just a way to continue her interests in space science but to tap into the interests of young students.

“I guess my goal in what I’m doing is to provide young people in this area the opportunities I didn’t have and to prepare them for career choices I wish I had,” Carter said.

So, what has Carter been doing? In her first teaching job as a mathematics instructor at Fleming County High School, she was awarded a grant from the state to develop a class in astronomy, a course that was a hit with the students.

“They were ecstatic about it. It was a brand new course in an area that was exotic,” Carter said. “They felt very privileged to have a class that was so unique.”

She’s taken it one step further in the past two years as a teacher at Rowan County Senior High School. Carter currently teaches several astronomy classes: Planetary Science, Stars Galaxies and Cosmology, Pulsar Astronomy and two MSU dual credit courses – Introduction to Satellites and Space Systems I and II. Her Pulsar Astronomy course is a particularly unique class, not just on a state level but nationally as well. There are fewer than 700 high school students in the country analyzing pulsars, rotating neutron stars that emit radio waves. In the case of Carter’s students, they aren’t just analyzing information. They are also making discoveries.

During Carter’s 12-week course, her students are trained to analyze archived data from the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia, the world’s largest radio telescope. They are taught how to distinguish true pulsar-like signals from known sources of radio frequency interference (RFI) and compare them with signals from previously discovered pulsars. Two of Carter’s students, Hannah Mabry and Jessica Pal, actually uncovered new pulsars and were invited to GBT to observe it and make it official. They are among only five students who have successfully identified pulsars for the Pulsar Search Collaboratory and Carter feels it is a particularly proud accomplishment for these students.

“It’s an honor for a student. It is an honor for any scientist to make a fundamental discovery and that’s what these students have done,” Carter said.

Carter wants to make sure that her high school classes lay the foundation for an interest in space science for these students to pursue at the college level. With her husband, Dr. Benjamin Malphrus, serving as chair for the Department of Earth and
Space Science, and her continued relationship with the faculty in the Space Science Program, Carter regularly brings her students to the Space Science Center so they can be exposed to everything it has to offer and get acquainted with the place where they could potentially pursue their space science career.

For Carter, she believes that when students gain knowledge of space science, it will aid them in their future occupation – even if it doesn’t revolve around gazing at the sky.

“The skills they learn through these programs translate across all areas of science,” she said. “Even if a student decides, space science isn’t my thing, but electrical engineering is. If they have that skill, then they’re marketable.”

In addition to her dual role as high school astronomy teacher and student recruiter for the MSU Space Science Program, Carter’s love for space and her studies have kept her busy. She’s currently working toward a Master of Science degree in industrial technology. At her high school, she and fellow science teacher Claudett Edie were one of 13 teams selected as Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors. This school year, the two will fly on a modified Boeing 747 to conduct research that students will later analyze in class.

She also implemented a Space Trek space camp for girls in collaboration with teachers in Menifee County. The curriculum, which Carter helped build, will immerse students in the knowledge of satellites, allowing them to design, build, test and launch small tracking satellite-like devices, which will record data students will later analyze and present to their fellow space campers. Carter also was recently accepted into the NASA teacher liaison program. She was able to highlight the interaction she’s coordinated between her high school and the MSU Space Science program at the National Space Symposium.

No matter where Carter’s passion takes her, the focus will always be on her students and showing them a truly unique pathway to success through the MSU Space Science Program.

“I guess I’m the cheerleaders and the coach,” Carter said. “I coach them through their high school career so they’re ready for the pros.”

For more information on MSU’s Space Science Program, visit

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