Steven Gullberg certainly is starstruck. The 2002 Master of Liberal Studies graduate and College of Liberal Studies professor can be found climbing over shrines and crawling through caves high in the Peruvian Andes, examining their orientations with regard to the sun, moon and stars while conducting field research.
Astronomy is a lifelong passion for Gullberg that began in his boyhood. By the age of 14, he was paying for his first flight lesson with money he earned from a paper route. He celebrated his 16th birthday by making his first solo flight in a Cessna 150.
“As a child I was enthralled by the space-race of the 1960’s and eagerly watched every launch in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo manned spaceflight programs,” Gullberg said. “This fascination with space travel, flying and astronomy would become one of the most dominant influences in my life. My childhood dreams led me to fly and later brought me back to astronomy.”
From there, Gullberg embarked on an impressive career in the military. He enlisted first in the nuclear Navy to run nuclear reactors at sea and later was commissioned in the Army and assigned as a tank platoon leader. He subsequently transferred to the Air Force flying F-4 Phantoms, and eventually retired from the Air Force Reserve as a Lieutenant Colonel.
Gullberg became interested in continuing his education while working as an airline pilot after his retirement. With his research interests in ancient astronomy spanning several areas, he discovered that CLS would allow him to design a highly individualized level of specialization. The online delivery format best fit his needs, and the interdisciplinary aspect of the program was appealing.
“OU’s assets were ideal in both its talented staff and the Bizzell Library’s world-leading History of Science Collections,” Gullberg said. “I took full advantage of them while discovering that online learning is what you make of it. Even though this was a distance learning program, I worked with my professors on campus regularly.”
Rediscovering the Past
Utilizing computer analysis during his research, Gullberg isolated the likely reference system of the Babylonian astronomical diaries and learned that the majority of these observations likely took place within two seasonal hours of either sunset or sunrise. He also identified several astronomically related errors in the diary transliterations of cuneiform to Akkadian.
“Interdisciplinary scholarship became my pastime, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning everything I possibly could.”
Gullberg’s resulting research and thesis, The Babylonian Astronomical Diaries: A Contextual Survey and Graphical Analysis of their Implied Reference System, was highly recognized and he represented OU in the 2003 Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award competition.
Creating a New Future
With his master’s degree completed, Gullberg entered a doctoral program at James Cook University (JCU) in Townsville, Queensland, Australia, as JCU had a growing astronomy department that included research in archaeoastronomy, his specialization. He completed his dissertation in 2009 and his Ph.D. was awarded in early 2010.
“While I could have elected to spend my time in libraries researching a different topic, I chose instead to forge a research program centered upon field research in the Peruvian Andes,” he said.
Gullberg continues to present papers related to his field of expertise at international conferences and has been published numerous times. He was consulted for a Discovery Channel production and has written astronomy content under contract for a major publishing company. He now spends his time sharing the joy he has found by passionately teaching students at the CLS and helping them to discover and unlock their potentials.
Teaching for CLS certainly has had a profound effect on Gullberg.
“I greatly enjoy teaching for CLS and find it most rewarding to work with adult learners who aren’t able to continue their educations in the classroom,” he said. “I find their stories inspiring and it is a privilege to be able to help them achieve their goals. Out of everything I’ve been able to do throughout my life, I find this now to be the most satisfying of all.
“I like to find new ways of drawing students into the ‘online classroom’ and to make their experiences rich,” he explained. “I know that I have found my true calling and there is nothing that I would rather do more than share everything I have experienced with as many students as possible. I want to help them learn all that they can and, in the process, better their lives.”