My name is Andy White. I teach physics and astronomy. Although I am not from Burke County, I wanted to live in this part of the state. I am from Roanoke Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Amidst getting my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Physics at East Carolina University and North Carolina State University, I visited here often to hike the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. One summer, I participated in an internship in Morganton and decided I would like to live here someday. (I have heard it said that if you are raised at the beach you will want to live in the mountains.) Ironically, I was originally a forestry major but because it required the calculus-based physics I withdrew from forestry and, to make a long story short, ended up majoring in physics! At ECU, I taught undergraduate physics labs and worked in science camps for middle school and high school students. At NCSU, I taught physics and engineering classes and was awarded teaching awards from both the science and engineering schools. My research included general relativity and solid state modeling using computer simulations. Fortunately, I took several Spanish classes as well because I later became involved with a project that worked with school systems in Central America. This work involved teaching, building schools and homes, and managing several orphanages. I really enjoyed the work, so I lived in Honduras for several years.
While in Honduras, I started working with the University of Texas at Austin and through this affiliation I was very blessed to become involved with local Maya groups that live, and continue to live, very traditional lifestyles. Thus, I was thus able to learn a great deal about their culture, traditional technologies they utilize, and the importance of astronomy to them and their ancestors. I more-or-less learned three different dialects of the Mayan language in Honduras, Guatemala, and the Yucatan. This experience has profoundly affected my view of education and the importance of incorporating cultural perspectives in the classroom. I believe everyone should experience other cultures either by traveling or working closely with people from another culture. In the astronomy classes I teach, I always incorporate many astronomical ideas of the Maya, Aztec, and other cultures to demonstrate how a viewpoint or interpretation that is different from my viewpoint can ultimately give the same conclusion that I have reached. In the physics classes I teach, I incorporate examples from ancient technologies along with current technologies to better explain more difficult mechanical concepts. Comparing these technologies is very illustrative and always interesting to students. One of my favorite projects that I assigned in the engineering physics class was an analysis of the JFK assassination. The students requested lots of information from the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, TX and they did such a good job that the museum requested a copy of the project report to keep in the museum’s library.
I have been at WPCC for over 20 years and I really enjoy working with students. When I am not working at WPCC, I am usually outdoors canoeing/kayaking, hiking, and gardening. Of course, I like star gazing as well. I have hosted many star gazing nights at various locations such as Lake James State Part, Shining Rock Wilderness Area, Seattle (Washington), Copan (Honduras), Quirigua (Guatemala), etc. I have given several public presentations concerning Maya astronomy, including a presentation in 2012 where I correctly sided with the view that the world would not end! (At least, I think I was right.)