Sonoma State University physics and astronomy professor Lynn Cominsky has received three awards, including the $20,000 Wang Family Excellence Award, for her extraordinary commitment to student achievement and exemplary contributions in her fields.

“Receiving the Wang award is the biggest thrill of my career,” says Cominsky. “It is wonderful to know that my dedication to California State University is so widely appreciated and that my efforts to improve STEM learning nation-wide are being recognized.”

As a scientific co-investigator on three NASA high-energy astrophysics missions and founder and director of the Sonoma State University Education and Public Outreach (E/PO) Group, Cominsky develops exciting educational materials that inspire students to pursue STEM careers, to train teachers nationwide in the use of these materials, and to enhance science literacy for the general public. She has developed curriculum used by tens of thousands of students nationwide and has helped train master educators that have infused NASA science into the classrooms of more than 65,000 teachers. Cominsky was one of five California State University employees to receive the annual Wang Family Excellence award.

Cominsky was also honored with the American Astronomical Society’s Education Prize and the American Astronautical Society’s Sally Ride Excellence in Education Award earlier this year.

The American Astronomical Society has selected Cominsky for its Education Prize for her long-standing leadership of the E/PO Group, which has had a broad and significant impact both within its local community and nationally. It means a lot to Cominsky partially because she’s been a member of the organization for most of her professional life.

“It’s a reflection of the work I’ve done my whole career as an educator in terms of using astronomy to get people more involved in taking more science courses,” says Cominsky.

She is also the recipient of the second-ever American Astronautical Society’s Sally Ride Excellence in Education Award, recognizing the delivery of space education or the use of space in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. This award was largely for her work with SSU’s CubeSat program, in which a student team launched a tiny satellite into orbit around Earth in 2013, and the S4 program (Small Satellites for Secondary Students), which teaches educators to build experimental payloads to fly on tethered weather balloons or rockets, enabling students to participate in the thrill of experimental design and implementation.

Although the S4 program has ended, the rocketry work will continue through Cominsky’s new NASA grant that will develop a rocket-based curriculum beginning in five California community colleges this year and expanding to 10 next year. “I really want people to get hands-on with the hardware,” says Cominsky. “People love launching things.”

She’s also aware that hers has traditionally been a male-dominated field, and hopes to be seen as a role model for young women looking to get into the sciences and engineering. “It’s been mostly men launching things in the past, so having women making curriculum and launching things lets other women know its something they can do too,” she says “It’s not just something for guys.”

The SSU E/PO Group develops innovative school curricula for K-12 and college classrooms. Since 1999, it has led many different NASA-funded educational programs. The group’s Learning by Making program, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, creates new high school curricula that integrate the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core Mathematics Standards.

Last year, the program started implementing the curriculum in six rural Mendocino County high schools, using computational thinking, coding in the Logo language, and the analysis of data from a variety of sensors to focus on real world problem solving.

In another recently funded program, Cominsky’s E/PO group has received funding from the National Science Foundation to develop LIGO-based resources for Community College faculty and students. LIGO is a physics experiment designed to detect gravitational waves, which were first predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916 and indirectly confirmed in 1974.

Nicolas Grizzle
News and Information Coordinator
Sonoma State University
+1 707.664.3189

The Wang Family Excellence Award recognizes and celebrates CSU faculty members who have distinguished themselves through groundbreaking achievements in their academic disciplines and who have an enormous impact on students through superior teaching. The awards for faculty are given to members of four groups of academic disciplines — Visual and Performing Arts and Letters; Natural Sciences, Mathematical and Computer Science and Engineering; Social and Behavioral Sciences and Public Service; and Education and Professional Applied Sciences. The award also pays tribute to staff members whose contributions significantly exceed expectations in their appropriate areas at the university.