Gerald Gitner (CAS’66) and the night sky
Until October 2014, Gerald Gitner, an energetic, accomplished airline executive (he founded an airline and led two) and now a private investor, would probably not have called himself a stargazer.
But that month, he joined 12 other BU alumni who traveled to Flagstaff for three days to look at Arizona’s night sky through two BU-supported telescopes—the Perkins Telescope, run in part by BU at the Lowell Observatory, and the nearby Discovery Channel Telescope, financed in part by BU and operated by the Lowell Observatory. What Gitner came home with was a set of impressions—not just of a stupendous canopy of stars (untainted, in Flagstaff, by urban light), but of his fellow alums, and of BU’s provision of an unforgettable learning experience.
“I’d studied astronomy at BU years ago to fulfill a science requirement,” Gitner says about his decision to attend. “But I’d never been in an observatory. The trip sounded fascinating.”
BU astronomy professors Dan Clemens and Andrew West guided the amateur observers, and Gitner says they provided the alumni group with a good grounding in basic astronomy. The experience ended up being
powerful, celestially and otherwise. “Being out there at night, seeing the stars in the middle of nowhere, and having somebody with us who knew what to look for” was an illuminating experience, Gitner says. “I’d heard all my life about the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper. Think I could have picked them out on my own? I’ve lived in urban environments my entire life—I’m lucky if I get to see the moon!”
The trip, Experience: Space Beyond Earth, was the first in a new series of intensive educational programs offered by the BU Alumni Association. The programs all aim to provide alumni with access to BU sites and professors and their work worldwide.
The trip included some sweet serendipity for Gitner.
“Many years ago,” he says, “my wife Deanne and I established an annual prize called the Gitner Prize for Distinguished Teaching. And lo and behold, Andrew West, a BU assistant professor on the Flagstaff trip, introduced himself to me and said, memorably, ‘Are you the Gitner?’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ And he said, ‘Are you the Gitner…I won this teaching prize at BU…’ And I said ‘Wow! You’re the first awardee I’ve ever met!’ It was just amazing. All of a sudden, here was a new connection. Here was someone who got the benefit of our endowment, and he’s prospering and succeeding.”
“The most important part of the whole Flagstaff experience,” says Gitner, “was the people. They all cared, they all enjoyed it, they all learned.
“And now I’m looking forward to hearing about BU’s next exciting journey!”