Community Engagement & University Service

Public Engagement

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Astronomy on Tap

In an effort to increase public astronomy engagement in Madison, I founded the Madison, WI chapter of Astronomy on Tap in February of 2023. Since then the Madison AoT team has hosted monthly events throughout the academic year at local venues. Each event features three public focused astronomy talks, astronomy trivia, and other interactive activities to audiences averaging 60 members of the public. To facilitate this, I have developed relationships with venues, promotional materials and structures, and served as the MC for each event. I have a team of ~5 graduate students and post-docs in the UW-Madison astronomy department facilitating promotional posts ahead of the events and providing on the ground support for each event. In this team, I mentor newer graduate students to take on additional responsibility and build structures to ensure longevity of the program. 

Universe in the Park

I have presented and operated department telescopes at ~10 Universe in the Park events throughout Wisconsin State Parks between 2019-2024. Talk topics have ranged from the Persieds Meteor Shower, Doppler Events in the Solar Photosphere, to Astronomy in the Modern Gaia-JWST Era. During the pandemic with other graduate students and directors of UW Space Place we developed hybrid implementations of the beloved UW Madison Universe in the Parks (UitP) programs. These virtual star parties have continued online through the facilitation of fellow UW-Madison Astronomy graduate student, Bob Aloisi.


2023/2024 "Back to Back" Solar Eclipse 

I designed and facilitated the ordering of 6000 Solar Eclipse glasses for public distribution ahead of the October 2023 and April 2024 North American Solar Eclipses with accompanying astronomy department public science events.

Historic Washburn Observatory

Since the late 1870s, the on-campus Washburn Observatory has been open for public observing at least every first and third Wednesday of the month (as long as the weather allows). In my time as a graduate student, I have led public observing nights at least once or twice per month and facilitated many trainings for new graduate students and advanced astronomy major undergraduate students to train them as telescope operators.


Mentoring through research and outside of research is incredibly important for ensuring people feel supported and included. I have participated as a mentor through our graduate program to newer PhD students (a program which I now lead), through professional societies like the Division on Dynamical Astronomy, through on-campus networks and societies focused on supporting students who hold marginalized identities in physics and astronomy, and through research projects inside my research group.

As a fourth year graduate student student, I advised two undergraduates (Olly Guo: Computationally Probing the Milky Way Galaxy Density Structure & Dominic Catherino: Probing the Milky Way Galaxy Density Structure through Mock Observations) in galactic dynamics research projects that they completed over the full year. Both students presented their work at University Research Symposium.

Astronomy Mentoring AY23-24

As our graduate mentor chair, I developed a robust mentor pairing system prioritizing mentor-mentee alignment and mentor training for more senior graduate students to serve as mentors to first-year graduate students. I also implemented a mentor training meeting to help mentors gain the confidence and skills to be effective in their role. 

The near-peer mentor training slides are available to the left with resources linked throughout and activites to complete in the training.

UW-Madison Roles to Promote Equity and Inclusion

At UW-Madison, Rachel served as the Chair of Minoritized Identities of Wisconsin Strengthening Astronomy (MIoWSA) from 2019-2022 and is an organizer of the Listen+Reflect Speaker Series through Madison Astronomers Promoting Lasting Equity (MAPLE). Outside of her department, she works as a part of the organizing team of the Physics and Astronomy Anti-Racism Coalition (PAARC). She also served for three years in an organizing role on the Executive Board of the UW Madison Graduate Workers' Union, the Teaching Assistants Association (TAA). 

Other Highlighted Astronomy Department Leadership & Committee Roles

UW – Madison Astronomy Department Curriculum Committee Member (2023-24)

Graduate Student Co-Chair (2022-23)

College of Letters & Sciences Teaching & Learning Council (2022-24)

Organizer & Facilitator for InGalaxies Astronomy arXiv Coffee (2022-24)

Astronomy Data Carpentries Curriculum Advisor (2022-24)