Alum Brian Mernoff Gives Seminar on Science Communication and Habitable Planets

Apr 10, 2024
Brian Mernoff, an alum of the University. He is standing next to heavy machinery and is wearing a blue T-shirt and tan cargo shorts. He's smiling while holding a staff.

Brian Mernoff '12.

 Brian Mernoff ’12, an alum of Westfield State, graduated in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in chemistry and math in addition to completing two secondary education teaching certificates. Now, he works for MIT AeroAstro in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as their Communication Lab and Open Education Manager, which educates graduate students in technical communication as they provide peer coaching services on relevant topics. Mernoff has been an educator for 15 years, teaching at Medford High School in Medford, Massachusetts for several years before working as the Education Coordinator and Manager for Science Education for the MIT Museum.

Mernoff was also a Peer Tutor for the University during his time here, “spending most of [my] time at the Tutoring and Learning Center. “I tutored for almost every math and chemistry class,” he said. “Even ones I was either currently taken or hadn’t taken at all, just because I really like teaching. The nursing program there had just started, and so I was one of the only people willing to tutor for their chemistry, drugs, and dosages classes, which was cool. I learned a lot, and people found my tutoring helpful.”

Challenging himself to learn new things or consistently deepening an already existing skillset is important to Mernoff, as his interests easily shift and expand. “I’m very conscious of how I’d like to learn something new, either a skill or build onto the ones I already have, at least once a year, just to remember what it’s like to be a student,” he said about it. “It’s super easy to forget.”

From Medford High School, Mernoff felt himself “hit a personal peak”. To keep from “burning out”, he applied at the MIT Museum in Cambridge and was soon hired as their Educaton Coordinator. “It was a really nice role because I was teaching,” he commented about the experience. “But I was also managing a classroom and part-time instructors. I also helped translate research into hands-on activities for people of all ages and developed things based on our galleries.”

Despite having no formal education in astronomy and rocketry, Mernoff has always been passionate about space, rocketry, astrophotography, 3D printing, and rocket models. By educating himself on these various subjects, Mernoff eventually designed the impressive 3-D printed James Webb Space Telescope, which can be downloaded from his personal website. Mernoff also dabbles in astrophotography using his regular camera.

Karsten Theis, Professor of Chemical and Physical Sciences at the University and mentor of Mernoff, eventually reached out to him on LinkedIn and asked if he would be a guest speaker for the Current Topics class, taught by Ashley Evanoski-Cole.

Mernoff adapted his address with the goal of engaging the group in active learning and providing an example in how to engage new audiences with STEAM processes, as opposed to the traditional passive lecture. The event began with a brief intro to Mernoff's career path, along with his professional goal of engaging diverse audiences with a number of scientific processes, experimental design, and current topics and research. Following this, he then implemented an Exoplanet Mystery workshop with the attendees.

“I adapted a workshop developed for middle schoolers, high schoolers, and adults at the MIT Museum,” Mernoff said. “It was nice because we had some undergraduates, but also a lot of professors who knew me from when I was a student. The students each had different data they had to decode and analyze, and then come together and tell me about the exoplanet that was discovered. They also had to debate with each other on the exoplanets themselves and were super engaged with that. It was really cool. Even the professors were into it. It was fun seeing their reactions.”

Mernoff was additionally given a tour of the newly renovated Parenzo Hall and its Research, Innovation, Design, and Entrepreneurial Center (RIDE). He said that “it was nice to be back” and exciting to see how the spaces he used to inhabit have evolved along the years. As he has experience with utilizing and planning designs for laboratories and educational facilities, Mernoff described the renovations as “incredible” and “well designed”.

Overall, Mernoff believes the University to be a place of connection, where students can form bonds and build relations with not only peers, but faculty members that are invested in students’ success. “My former professors still reach out to me, and it’s been twelve years,” he said. “We have very good relationships, and Westfield State offers quality learning experiences that I use in my role as an educator and manager.”