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Star gazer: Minnesota West professor has deep love for astronomy

Minnesota West Community & Technical College professor Paul Seifert poses by a Meade RCX400 10" telescope. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — A finger pointed at an upward angle and his head cranked toward the sky isn’t an uncommon way to spot Paul Seifert.

The Minnesota West Community and Technical College professor enjoys experiencing the magnitude and amazement of the solar system and the night sky as much as he does teaching students about it in the classroom.

“I just love teaching astronomy,” he said. “I love talking about astronomy.”

A native of the Fargo, N.D. area, Seifert moved to Worthington seven years ago to teach physics and math at Minnesota West.

He admits he hadn’t always pictured himself in a classroom, but instead planned on acting on what seemed to be an innate interest.

“I wanted to be an astronomer,” he said.

Seifert was counseled otherwise, and advised to earn his physics degree and then branch out from there.

“I ended up staying in physics, and found out I like to teach it way better than I like to research it, anyway,” he said.

That’s what’s made Minnesota West a good fit for Seifert, allowing him to focus on teaching students rather than investing all of his time and effort into a research project.

Having never lost the love of astronomy and the night sky, Seifert was also instrumental in developing an astronomy class at Minnesota West.

He admits there wasn’t a profound moment in his life that sparked his interest in astronomy. It’s simply something he’s been interested in his whole life.

“I was interested in dinosaurs like every little boy, too,” he added. “I still am, just not as much as I used to be.”

Seifert uses his knowledge about the night sky to reach far more than enrolled college students.

By way of four telescopes in his personal collection and a telescope recently donated to the college by one of his friends, Seifert has hosted public star parties so those without the proper technical equipment can have an opportunity to get a better look into the night sky. A watch party in 2015 for the lunar eclipse was popular, drawing 250 to 300 people at the college, he said.

“Hopefully sometime this spring we’ll be putting up an observatory for student projects or public programs,” he said.

He admitted that his deep love for astronomy had him playing hooky on the first day of the fall 2017 semester.

“I was not going to miss it,” he said about the once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse event that he traveled to central Nebraska to observe.

The preparation leading up to the Aug. 21, 2017 event took some interesting turns, to say the least.

He’d prepped and packed several telescopes for the trip, but didn’t realize that his camera bag didn’t make the trip until he’d arrived in Lincoln, Neb. Through a chain of command from friend groups back home, he managed to get his camera in his hands in time for the solar eclipse. He was lucky, as the mishap would have cost him about eight hours.

“I would have turned around and come back and gotten it,” he said.

When Seifert isn’t looking at the night sky, he keeps busy with other hobbies.

Licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to transmit and receive radio frequencies, he is a member of the Worthington Amateur Radio Club.

People like Seifert are especially handy during an emergency situation, as he could connect communication between several emergency response teams in an efficient manner.

There hasn’t been a situation that required assistance from an amateur radio operator in the seven years he’s resided in Worthington, but the club will be ready if there is.

“Mostly we play with the radios and talk to each other so that we’re ready in case there is an emergency,” he said.

A self-professed beer snob, Seifert also enjoys home brewing.

A member of a homebrewing club in Marshall, he likes to experiment with different flavor combinations. From hundreds of grain options to change the flavor and character of beer to dozens of different hops styles, Seifert’s next brew has the potential to be unique.

“You have an endless number of creations that you can play around with,” he said.

Depending on the taste and style, homebrewing takes a great deal of patience. The longest Seifert waited from start to finish a brew was a year, as he wanted a Berliner Vice to get to the appropriate amount of sourness for his taste buds.

“You stick it in the fermenter, shove it in the corner and just forget about it,” he said. “It tasted like a tart Kool-Aid.”

His homebrewing hobby has even inspired his geocaches — a popular “treasure hunt” that uses Global Positioning System technology.

Using the name “StarDoc,” which is inspired by an explanation he provided his then 2-year-old daughter as to why he was attending graduate school, Seifert has hidden a number of geocaches around the area with a beer theme.

He’s even got an idea to incorporate his love of astronomy into his next cache.

“I’d like to do a series of geocaches on a country road that’s a scale model of the solar system,” he said. “I’d put the sun at one section corner, then I’d put geocaches where all the planets would be from that spot.”