When Roger Culver arrived on campus in 1966, Colorado State University had an enrollment of 8,000, Prospect Road marked Fort Collins’ southernmost edge and the football team was playing games on Jack Christensen Field.
A half-century after being recruited to develop astronomy courses, Culver, who is known around campus for always wearing socks that exactly match his shirt, is retiring in August.
Brought on board to expand the breadth of coursework offered by the physics and mathematics department, Culver said he was hired in a time when institutions of higher education were avidly seeking out astronomers.
“It was during the peak of (the) Apollo space program and right after Sputnik,” Culver said. “Everyone wanted a space-age course or curriculum.”
Upon arrival, Culver supplemented the introductory astronomy course already in place with a sequence of upper-division astrophysics classes and an astronomy lab. Culver said he was hired on to provide the academic framework for the curriculum.
Les Madison, who served as the mathematics department chair from 1956-68, was both Culver’s predecessor and recruiter. When handing out final exams, Culver said Madison would announce to his class, “If you pass this course, you will have more college credit in astronomy than I do.”
“(Madison) was very interested in astronomy,” Culver said. “He really wanted to get a real-live astronomer involved.”
Culver earned his master’s degree in astronomy from Ohio State University the spring before he started teaching a full course load at CSU. From 1966-71, Culver pursued his doctorate in astronomy from his alma matter, becoming familiar with Interstate-70 while routinely traveling back and forth from Fort Collins to Columbus.
After taking stock of his 50 years in higher education, Culver said his plans for retirement include traveling and spending more time star-gazing. Above all other aspects of teaching, Culver said he will miss the youthful enthusiasm of his students the most.
“One of the things that’s kept me going is that I’m constantly dealing with people on the way up,” Culver said. “Students have an optimistic outlook on things — that rubs off on you and really keeps you going.”
Brian Jones, director of the Little Shop of Physics, has known Culver since he came to CSU 27 years ago. Jones said the pair would regularly discuss strategies on how to better engage students.
“Roger thinks carefully about what he’s teaching and how he’s going to teach it,” Jones said. “He is a really excellent teacher.”
Culver’s passion for astronomy was formed gazing the desert-night sky as a seven-year-old in Tucson, AZ, where he and his family lived briefly.
“Astronomy is the final frontier,” Culver said. “Whether it’s moon rocks or galaxies, any place you look there is some really neat questions to be answered. It’s fascinating.
“I’ve been very privileged and blessed to have been able to do a job that I love doing when there are people out there that live their whole and not do what they love doing for a day.”
Collegian Reporter Diego Felix can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @FMTLturntablist.