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USRA's Dr. Joan Schmelz Named Fellow of the American Astronomical Society

Washington, DC—February 8, 2023. Universities Space Research Association’s Dr. Joan Schmelz has been elected Fellow of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), joining a distinguished group of professional astronomers and astronomy educators. This year,  the AAS is honoring 22 members for extraordinary achievement and service by naming them AAS Fellows.

photo of Dr. Joan Schmelz

Dr. Joan Schmelz

Dr. Schmelz was honored “For her significant record of service and leadership within the AAS including Vice President of the AAS, chair of the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy, and editor of the AASWOMEN newsletter and STATUS magazine; for her work as an advocate, fighting sexual harassment in astronomy and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM.”

She has served as director, astronomer, and diversity advocate at Universities Space Research Association (USRA). She has been the Interim (2015-16) and Deputy (2015-18) Director of the Arecibo Observatory, the Associate Director for Science and Public Outreach at SOFIA (2018-19), the Director of the NASA Postdoctoral Program (2019-22), and the Director of the Science and Technology Institute (2021-22). Before joining USRA, she was a program officer at NSF's Division of Astronomical Sciences (2013-15) and a professor at University of Memphis for over 20 years.

Her published papers span a a variety of astronomical topics including magnetic fields, gas dynamics, and physical properties in stars, galaxies, interstellar matter, and the Sun, using data from ground- and space-based telescopes. Her recent work on High Velocity Cloud Complex M was part of a press conference at the 241st meeting of the AAS. In 2023, she completed the Spectrum Slam, a peer-reviewed paper in every band of the electromagnetic spectrum.

She was the first person in the astronomy community to talk and blog about topics that have become central to diversity -- unconscious bias, stereotype threat, and impostor syndrome. Her 2011 blog post, Coming Out of the Shadows, described her own experience with sexual harassment. As a result, young women from across the country began contacting her about their own situations. These conversations – which formed the basis of what is now called the whisper network – helped shine a light on the abusive behavior that had always hidden in the dark. Schmelz was honored in 2015 as one of Nature’s Top Ten people who made a difference in science for her work fighting sexual harassment.

The AAS Fellows program was established in 2019 (see the press release) to recognize AAS members for their contributions toward the Society's mission of enhancing and sharing humanity's scientific understanding of the universe. Fellows may be cited for original research and publication, innovative contributions to astronomical techniques or instrumentation, significant contributions to education and public outreach, and noteworthy service to astronomy and to the Society itself.

The inaugural class of AAS Fellows was named in 2020; those Legacy Fellows included more than 200 Society members, including past recipients of certain awards from the AAS or its topical Divisions, distinguished AAS elected leaders and volunteer committee members, and previously unrecognized individuals with long histories of outstanding research, teaching, mentoring, and service.



About USRA

The Universities Space Research Association (USRA) is a nonprofit corporation chartered to advance space-related science, technology and engineering. USRA operates scientific institutes and facilities and conducts other major research and educational programs. USRA engages the university community and employs in-house scientific leadership, innovative research and development, and project management expertise. More information about USRA is available at www.usra.edu.