Removing roadblocks in the sky: Francisco Velez ’18 partners up to build astronomical society

Francisco Velez

Francisco Velez ’18 wants to share the wonders of space with Olympia, and his goal is to do that through the building of the Greater Olympia Astronomical Society. Velez and his friend Roger Plenefish ’18 hope to make the society more compelling for Evergreen students by touting it as a safe space to look up at the sky while also making a productive difference through storytelling.

Velez’s interest in communicating science through storytelling burgeoned when he took Cosmology and Mythology: Science and Story with faculty members Rebecca Chamberlain and Allen Mauney. To summarize his experience of the two-quarter program, Velez said, “It took me to another level of interest. I started doing observations in my backyard, and I realized it’s lonely outside in the dark when you’re by yourself doing this day in and day out.” This feeling drove him to connect with other astronomical societies throughout the Northwest, then brought him full circle back to Olympia, where Dennis Rech, the former director of the Southwest Washington Astronomical Society, awaited. Rech was more than willing to hand the responsibility of leading the society over to Velez and Plenefish.

The only credential someone must possess to join the society is what Velez calls a “curious mind.” He believes that Evergreen students are a particularly valuable source of energy. Outreach, public speaking, and behind-the-scenes work for events are all skills the Astronomical Society needs, and Velez advocated that participation in any of these activities can help members move toward their own personal goals. Velez hopes that students will provide the club with what they have learned about competence at the college: “That’s developed here at Evergreen: how to work in teams, how to connect what you’re good at, whether you’re an artist or a mathematician, into something that the greater community can benefit from.”

Right now, Velez imagines club meetings will be relatively laid-back. The meetings will each discuss a star-related topic, such as a story about the cosmos that has been passed down through generations, or a theory about the universe that attendees can discuss. However, Velez announced, “if the night is just too nice we can plop outside with telescopes” and look at the moon.

Taino stories from Velez’s Puerto Rican background were what opened his mind to the vastness of the universe. “Sailors that were our family from Spain followed these stars, and they used these particular stars to tell them where they were in the world.” As Velez grew up, he realized that the universe was always bigger than he thought before. Now, he knows that no matter how far out into space you go, it’s so big that you might as well consider yourself right in the middle of it all. “You’re always the center of where you see,” he said.

Thought experiments such as that are what push Velez to continue his sky-journey. They allow him to appreciate that he is a part of the bigger picture of life, no matter how big or small that part makes him feel. Velez contemplated, “Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel differently about it. But during this time, what can I see, what can I learn, what can I experience? It’s a big motivator. ”

From attending Evergreen, Velez has observed some crucial similarities between students at the college, and he wants to use those to better his club and the community: “We want to see change. We want to enact change. We want to do away with those things that have put roadblocks on other people and on ourselves. Come join us in taking down these roadblocks.”

To learn more, reach out to the Greater Olympia Astronomical Society on Facebook!