Maroon & Gray Celebration Profile David Weintraub ’76

David Weintraub ’76 said State College was a great place to grow up. “I still have close friends from 1st grade at Panorama Village Elementary School. And my teachers there were wonderful: Mrs. Guild, Mrs. Foster, Mrs., Breon, Mrs. Sunday, Mrs. Trostle,” he shared. “Of course, at the time, I had no idea what sacrifices my teachers and coaches made to do what they did. But I appreciate it now.”

“Hubie White, my gymnastics coach, knew almost nothing about gymnastics, but the team needed a coach, so he coached. More than once, he saved me from breaking my neck. And one late night, he saved a dozen lives by grabbing the wheel of the bus when the driver fell asleep,” he continued.

“The most influential teacher I ever had was my high school physics teacher, Chris Tellefson Nichols, now a retired teacher in Colorado,” he continued. “I aspired to be as good a teacher as she was. Truly, those who had the greatest impact on me were my friends and classmates. Our years together in marching band, sports, student government, and even in classes, shaped me for all the years since,” he said.

After graduating from State High, David attended Yale University, where he majored in Physics & Astronomy. “I chose Yale because it had a great gymnastics coach. I spent most of my college years in the gym, and I and the team won lots of championships.”

After graduating in four years from Yale, David earned his Master’s at UCLA, with a plan to teach high school physics and coach high school gymnastics, but his life took a different turn. “Los Angeles Unified didn’t offer me a contract I was willing to sign, so spent five months riding my bicycle in Europe, returned to LA, taught at a community college for a year, met my wife, and then returned to graduate school,” he said. “Four years and two daughters later, I completed my PhD, and 18 months later, I joined the Astronomy faculty at Vanderbilt University. There, Carie Lee and I added a son to our brood and raised our children.”

David and Carie Lee are parents to MaryAlison, an elementary school teacher and reading intervention specialist in Los Angeles; Sarah Beth, a project manager for non-profits in Brooklyn; and Isaac, a Pediatric Intensive Care fellow at the University of Alabama Birmingham Children’s Hospital. “Isaac and his wife Kelly have blessed us with two granddaughters, Lennon, age 4, and Cameron, age 2,” David added.

My joyful 40-year marriage to Carie Lee and our apparent success in raising three children are my greatest accomplishments,” he said. After giving up gymnastics David put “serious miles” on his bicycle and with Carie Lee enjoyed bicycle trips to Austria, France, Spain, Italy, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands. They’ve also cycled the Erie Canal from Buffalo to Albany (“that’s the downhill direction,” he said) the Florida Keys from Key Largo to Key West, and the Katy Trail, from Kansas City to St. Louis.

David Weintraub, with his wife Carie Lee Kennedy, on a sailboat off Key West in 2024, celebrating the completion of a bicycle trip from Key Largo to Key West.

David retired in 2023, just after being inducted as a Fellow of the American Astronomical Society. “Over the years, I was fortunate to use telescopes atop mountains in exotic places, from Spain to Chile to Hawaii, and telescopes in space, including the Hubble Space Telescope,” David said. “I wanted to learn about how humanity fits into the universe. And so I searched for and found some of the first-known dusty disks around newborn stars. These disks are evidence that supports the idea that stars commonly form planets around them shortly after they are born. I also found the closest known star cluster to the Sun of newborn stars; this group of stars has become the focus of dozens of research studies by others over the years.”

He continued, “About 20 years ago, I recalibrated and decided I was a better teacher and communicator of science than a scientist. I created and directed the Communication of Science, Engineering & Technology Program at Vanderbilt University, which now graduates about 30 students per year. The goal of the program is to help young scientists develop strong skills in communicating what they do, both to other scientists and also to non-professional audiences of all sorts, through public lectures, blogs, podcasts, and videos.” 

As a science communicator, David has published five books, the first, Is Pluto a Planet? and the most recent, The Sky is for Everyone: Women Astronomers in Their Own Words. “I am also completing books 7, 8 and 9 in a series of autobiographies of scientists, which I ghostwrite, that are aimed at 5th-grade level readers. These books, I hope, will excite young readers about careers in science and help them understand that scientists are regular people like themselves who love learning and discovering new things and who decided to work hard in school to create for themselves the opportunity to become scientists.  After publication, I purchase 1,000 copies of each title and donate them to schools across the country,” he said.

David said his plans include more bicycle trip adventures – “we have miles to go before our adventure ends,” he said — and spoiling his grandchildren. “I may write more children’s books, but I’ll decide after hitting the pause button on that project for a few months.”

“I’m honored to be inducted, and I’m flattered by those who chose to suggest me as one to be considered for this honor,” David said, and offered this advice to today’s students: “Do your math homework. And whatever you choose to do, try to do it well. Choose a career path that allows you to wake up every morning thrilled that today, you get to do whatever it is you do.” 

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