Former WNCC student well on her way to becoming astronomer |

Former WNCC student well on her way to becoming astronomer

For the Nevada Appeal
Former Western Nevada Community College student Amanda Heidermann stands next to the sandstone sculpture of Saturn on the college's Planetary Walkway that connects the main campus to the Jack C. Davis Observatory. Heidermann is working toward a doctorate in astronomy. Submitted Photo

The first time Amanda Heidermann met Western Nevada Community College physics professor Robert Collier, she told him that she wanted to become an astronomer. Collier says he was surprised and a little skeptical at the time.

But Heidermann, a Carson City native and Carson High School graduate, was true to her word and her dream. She completed her coursework at WNCC, transferred to the University of California, Berkeley, and graduated with a degree in astrophysics. She has now been accepted to the University of Texas graduate school – and is well on her way to becoming a full-time astronomer.

“Robert and the people at WNCC helped me a lot through a lot of challenges,” Heidermann said. “You don’t have to be a perfect student. You just have to put your mind to it, and you’ll be successful.”

At WNCC, Heidermann earned a 3.95 grade-point average, served as a senator for the United Students Association, and was a member of the first Western Nevada Astronomical Society committee. She first met Collier at a college career fair, where her goal was to introduce herself to a physics instructor.

“Robert gave me a book, and we went to his office and talked,” she said. “He later became my mentor and inspired me all the time.”

Heidermann said chemistry professor Mike Sady and mathematics professor Ed Kingham were also big influences.

“I realize now that teaching and mentoring students is very important,” she said.

After earning her doctorate, Heidermann plans to become an instructor or join a research institute. For the past year, she has worked at the University of Virginia National Radio Observatory in Charlottesville.

This fall, she will research data on galaxy clusters received from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

“The Milky Way is a little bit too close to home for me,” Heidermann said, smiling. “Extragalactic astronomy is my absolute favorite. At the University of Texas, I will be doing research right away, which is unusual. The focus is usually on classes.”

Collier asked Heidermann to work for him this summer at WNCC’s Jack C. Davis Observatory. She is assisting with the weekly Star Parties, which are open to the public every Saturday after dusk. Visitors look through a number of different telescopes and discuss the night sky.

“Now the tables are turned. I am now doing the teaching,” Heidermann said.