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Okatibbee observatory, MathFirst supported by Phil Hardin grant

By By Steve Gillespie/staff writer
Jan. 23, 2002
The Meridian-based Phil Hardin Foundation today announced a grant of $199,572 for major programs at Meridian Community College, including an observatory at Lake Okatibbee for studying the stars.
The grant, announced by foundation president Robert Ward during a press conference at MCC's Ivy Hall Mall, also includes funds to support MCC's MathFirst program and other math and science-related programs.
Dr. Kathy Baxter, MCC's dean of academic affairs, said a reservoir site was picked for the observatory because the areas around the lake are more suitable for viewing the skies. The college has been working on its plans with Jack Huntley, operations manager of the U.S. Corps of Engineers.
Former MCC physics instructor Dick Dixon designed the observatory building with a retractable roof. MCC Construction Trades Program Coordinator Howie Schiedel and his students will build it.
The project is expected to be completed this spring and area high school science teachers will be invited to take their students to the observatory, which will be equipped with a 14-inch Celestron telescope, one of only three in the state.
MCC president Dr. Scott Elliott described the grant as "far reaching."
The money, received last semester, has also been used to purchase 24 computers for a biological sciences laboratory, 26 computers for a physical sciences laboratory and 10 computers for the chemistry and organic chemistry laboratory.
All of the computers have been provisioned with state-of-the-art interactive software, giving instructors flexibility in designing scientific experiments. In addition to the computers and software, sophisticated equipment, such as two spectrophotometers and a spectrometer have been added.
The grant is also being used to help area junior and high school math students through the MCC Math Homework Hotline, set up last semester.
Calls from students needing help with math homework may be made to two numbers: 553-3452 or 481-1382. The calls are answered Monday through Thursday from 1 p.m.-6 p.m. by advanced math students from MCC.
Public and private school officials have been given the hotline numbers for their students. The effort was made by the foundation to help students be better prepared for college math studies.