Cedar Amateur Astronomers, (CAA), recently received a grant from Rockwell Collins administered by Rockwell Collins Retiree Volunteers (RCRV). This grant was for the purpose of “volunteer recruitment, retention and training.” CAA, a non-profit organization, manages a million-dollar facility known as the Eastern Iowa Observatory and Learning Center (EIOLC) located on the Linn County Conservation’s Palisades-Dows nature preserve south-east of Cedar Rapids. The astronomical observatory is manned entirely by volunteers, there is no paid staff, so obviously volunteers are a vital part of the operation of the observatory. CAA officers Greg Frohner (President) and John Leeson (Vice President and RCRV member) accepted the grant award at the RCRV board meeting in June, thanking the RCRV review team for their careful consideration of their application. This grant was very timely for CAA.


Over the last ten years the Learning Center portion of the facility has had several additions in the way of interactive exhibits, aiming to expand the services of the EIOLC toward expanded visitor involvement in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Popular exhibits of "Lessons in Light", "Stellarium Planetarium Software Stations", "Size of the Universe" touch screen display, and "Our Sun and How it Works" are providing interactive learning experiences that are related to astronomy and space science, but not directly involving telescopes or observing the night sky. These activities are important because visitors may not be able to observe the sky through telescopes if they visit during the daytime, as many younger school children do, or if the sky is cloudy when they arrive for scheduled or reserved events. Astronomy itself is described by President Frohner as the “embodiment of STEM” due to its deep involvement in all aspects of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.. When combined with the current and planned interactive exhibits the EIOLC is becoming a STEM Center, a new generation of ‘Science Center’.

Outdoor PlanetariumIt is no longer sufficient to have a number of astronomy enthusiasts and telescope operators manning the EIOLC for visitors to the center. The EIOLC receives between 2500 and 3000 visitors a year, generally about one-third children and students and two-thirds adults. As mentioned above, oftentimes the sky is too cloudy or conditions not optimal for these visitors to view the sky; they always receive a tour of the sophisticated and valuable telescope facilities however. When they cannot fully appreciate the astronomical experience, they can participate in the interactive exhibits that support phases of the astronomical sciences or tour the other static displays of pictures, astronomy news, or other items of interest. For purposes of assisting visitors in enjoying the full capability of the facility, we often need not only our telescope operators and astronomy enthusiasts, but volunteers acting as hosts, exhibit docents, and organizational representatives. The CAA has a membership with a wide variety of experience and interests. We plan to utilize the grant money to extend our reach for volunteers into a larger portion of this membership as well as reaching outside of the association into a greater pool of available volunteers. Anyone with an interest in meeting people, in STEM, or who believes exposure of our children to more science related activities could help with our mission. You can contact CAA to explore volunteering opportunities by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or attend any of our public events and meet Greg or John, who are nearly always there. 

More information is available at the website: https://cedar-astronomers.org