Student Highlights: Catherine Elder

Photo of Catherine Elder

Catherine Elder at the Hartung-Boothroyd Observatory on Mount Pleasant Road. Her true passion is studying the icy satellites of Jupiter and Saturn.

Major: Astronomy
College: Arts and Sciences
Hometown: Boston

Why did you choose Cornell?
Because of its good astronomy department.

Main Cornell extracurricular activity – why is this important to you?
Helping run the co-op the Prospect of Whitby. I love living in Whitby, because I have made some great friends whom I might not have met otherwise. We have a lot of fun cooking, eating and hanging out. As treasurer the past two years, I enjoyed making a budget for my 19-person, 100-year-old house.
Also, as co-president of the Intercooperative Council, which attempts to facilitate communication among Cornell's eight university-owned co-ops, I've gotten experience in drafting and critiquing policies and resolutions. Living in a co-op has made me a better leader by teaching me how to facilitate community building and helping me become more aware of group dynamics.

Your most profound turning point while at Cornell?
My Planetary Surface Processes class field trip to Arizona made me realize that the morphology and geophysics of impact craters are parts of planetary geology that fascinate me the most.

Who or what influenced your Cornell education the most?
Cornell's astronomy department: I've been able to take multiple graduate-level classes, which have allowed me to explore my interests in planetary science before choosing a graduate program. The professors and grad students in the department have been very supportive and helped me with the process of applying to and choosing a grad program.

Did any of your beliefs or interests change during your time at Cornell?
Research positions and classes at Cornell, a summer internship at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and Cornell's Research Experience for Undergraduates have steered my interests to planetary geophysics and made me especially interested in the satellites of Jupiter and Saturn.

While at Cornell, what other accomplishments/activities are you most proud of?
Playing on and managing an intramural soccer team sophomore year. Holding office hours for introductory physics students through Cornell's Learning Strategies Center the past three semesters, because I love helping students understand a subject they find overwhelming and watching them realize that they can solve physics problems. Serving as president of the Cornell Photo Society, which involves leading photo sharing meetings, helping with budget proposals and recruiting new members. Participating in the Cornell Steel Drum group for five semesters.

What are your plans for next year and beyond?
Graduate school at the University of Arizona for a Ph.D. in planetary science, specializing in the geophysics of the icy satellites of Jupiter and Saturn, and eventually becoming a professor and participating in missions to the outer solar system. I might also consider a career developing planetary exploration policy with NASA or planning NASA's budget.