For more than 40 years until her retirement in 2012, Professor Emerita Mary Lou West inspired and mentored students in the Department of Mathematical Sciences and shared her passion for scientific education, and especially for physics and astronomy.
The driving force behind the University’s popular Public Telescope Nights, where anyone interested in looking at the night sky through a telescope is welcome, West is a familiar figure at both the University and in the surrounding communities. She is active in the New Jersey branch of the American Association of Physics Teachers, the American Astronomical Society and in the local astronomy club, the North Jersey Astronomical Group, which helps support the Public Telescope Nights.
To her former students, however, West is better known as an inspirational teacher and guide who involved them in her research and helped them with their own. “I worked on two major projects and several minor ones with her as an undergraduate physics student,” recalls Elias Ahadi ’98, who built a homemade seismograph out of parts from Radio Shack for one of the projects. “The seismograph picked up an earthquake that occurred in California in the fall of 1999.”
West was also an effective and engaging educator. “I took three astronomy classes with Dr. West for my major and each class was a small, novel adventure into the breadth of space sciences,” recalls Josh Kilian-Meneghin ’15. “Not only was the pertinent material covered, but we honed our communication skills as well, imparting our newfound knowledge on a younger generation at the public astronomy nights.”
Ahadi remembers taking West’s course on computer simulations of physical systems. “I was immediately hooked on the field of simulations,” he says. “Everything that I learned from her in that course I would later use as a foundation to build upon.”
A graduate of Cornell University (BA and MS) and Columbia University (PhD), West’s research interests included topics such as meteorite composition and structure; cosmic rays; galactic structure; and physics education. She regularly worked with students on research projects and served as an advisor and mentor to many, even arranging for some students to accompany her to national conferences.
“Professor West was an amazing person who always wanted her students to be involved in a project to develop better problem-solving and critical-thinking skills that would be applicable in any future endeavor,” says Ahadi. “I will always regard her as my best mentor.”
Kilian-Meneghin agrees: “Dr. West imparted sage advice and inspiration…she is the kind of teacher who makes Montclair State unique.”