Schmidt, Erik

Schmidt, Erik.jpg


Director of Perkin Observatory

B.A. - Marlboro College

I grew up on the Queens and Nassau county border near New York City but escaped to rural New England as quickly as I could. 

Since I was a child, I have been drawn to STEM and especially anything having to do with space. My bedroom lacked band posters but was rich in glow-in-the-dark star charts and model rockets. Extended relatives who forgot to put electronics out of reach heaved many a heavy sigh as I would always manage to find a screwdriver or other tool to indulge my curiosity. They would find me, happy as can be, among a pile of parts that used to be their VCR or alarm clock. 

I struggled in the large public school environment and as a teenager my love of STEM fell dormant. After landing at a tiny liberal arts college in Vermont, I persued another lifelong interest in stories that actually happened and studied history.

The summer before my senior year, I bought a thoroughly vandalized and foreclosed wreck of a house despite having no pre-existing knowledge of carpentry, plumbing, or home repair. After I made the house habitable but before finishing my degree, I built a small workshop next to the house and started a metalworking business which eventually became a full-time profession. 

After meeting and putting a ring on my wife, I began studying up on energy-efficient building design. We bought an empty hay field and with insufficient previous home-building experience (you'll notice a trend here) we set to work building a house and my dream workshop while planting fruit trees, berry bushes, and a vegetable garden. Along the way I became a hobbyist woodworker and cabinet-maker. The challenge of that project re-kindled my interest in STEM which in turn re-awakened my childhood love of space. I began reading every book, listening to every lecture, and watching every educational video I could about astrophysics and cosmology. Joining the local astronomy group helped me to learn more and to have an opportunity to engage in public outreach and science education while I prepared to persue an advanced degree in astrophysics. That's when Dublin's Observatory and I crossed paths.

One of my former teachers liked to say "Luck is when preparedness meets opportunity". I am both fortunate and excited to have the opportunity to maintain and develop the Perkin Observatory and to share my enthusiasm for space, science, and tinkering with students.

What teacher has had the greatest impact on you? Why were they special? Without a doubt that would be Dr. Tami L. Fern. She ran a special program for grades 3-6 where a handful of students in our district would be plucked out of their regular classes one day a week and bused to the central elementary school to engage in a very challenging curriculum with a strong emphasis on hands-on projects and problem-solving instead of rote memorization. Dr. Fern was a talented and devoted educator who fought hard to keep the program funded and demonstrate the efficacy of the model to the great benefit of its students. I struggled with boredom in the rest of my classes and so this program was an oasis for me. She also went the extra mile to cultivate and support me through critical years.

What is your favorite course you have taken in high school or college? In High School there was (and still is) a vocational program that included a multi-year course called "Instrumentation and Automation" and it was essentially an engineering class very similar to what is available at Dublin's maker space. That was the class I never wanted to miss. 

Since we students always preferred working on projects rather than lecture, at least once a week one of us would slip up when we arrived and ask "Mr. Anderes, are we having class or lab today" and he would say "Yes." and smile and walk away. He never got tired of doing that and it made us crazy. I'd wager not one of us, even as adults, have ever forgotten the difference between an "AND" and an "OR" logic gate thanks to that.

I am most happy when... I am most happy when I have a project or ambition that is peripheral to but outside my existing skillet so that I get to dive in as a beginner and be a sponge to a whole new set of information and skills.

If I had a free afternoon I would... Calibrate all of the things!

What is your favorite outdoor activity? Driving our tractor or other heavy equipment to work on our homestead. Technically it isn't outside since I'm encased in a steel and glass cab with heat and air-conditioning, but its close enough for me. Sitting on top of several tons of steel wrapped around a diesel engine while pulling levers and pressing buttons is one of my definitions of a good time. That doing so is also productive is a bonus.

I also have a dream of learning to fly small aircraft and perhaps at some point building my own single engine piston plane to scoot around in. That may also technically not be an outdoor activity, since I'll again be encased in aluminum and plexiglass, but I'd be in the sky so that's definitely close enough.