Highlanders in the News: Week of July 17, 2023

Every other week, our Highlanders are using their education to do extraordinary things. Here, we’ll highlight some notable mentions from local, regional, national and international news media. Whether our students, alumni, faculty and staff are featured as subject matter experts in high-profile stories or simply helping make the world a better place, we’ll feature their stories.


On July 12, 2023, the Radford University Planetarium held a daylong event, projecting onto its 10-meter diameter dome recent images sent to Earth by the James Webb Space Telescope. Physics professor and planetarium director Rhett Herman, Ph.D. (bottom right) offered commentary on the images, as well as their potential to educate and motivate future generations. (Event photos by David Horton)

Look! Up in the sky!

Over the summer months, the Radford University Planetarium largely closes to the public so it can focus on hosting student tours and enrichment groups from local schools – indeed, since May, the facility has welcomed more than 800 young visitors from around the New River and Roanoke valleys and beyond.

Recently, however, it threw open its doors for a daylong celebration of Earth’s science and technology, as well as the planet’s place in the universe. On July 12, the planetarium marked the one-year anniversary of the first pictures received from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, a $10 billion spacecraft that’s currently traveling more than 900,000 miles beyond Earth’s orbit.

As part of the James Webb Space Telescope community event, Assistant Professor George Harakas, Ph.D., demonstrated glass blowing for guests at a station in Radford's Center for the Sciences. Glass blowing is useful in chemistry, as scientists often need a specific piece of glassware for their experiments. Harakas worked behind a plexiglass barrier, while also wearing safety goggles and keeping the tank that fueled his torch secured from the audience.

Every hour that day, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Radford’s facility projected a series of images sent home by the telescope onto its 10-meter diameter dome. The infrared telescope allows scientists and the general public alike to view farther and more clearly into the universe than ever before.

The Museum of the Earth Sciences and Radford University’s Greenhouse were also open, and other free science-related activities took place around campus.

Those events were covered by WSLS-TV, the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Roanoke Times, which also offered a short video sampler of the exhibit at the planetarium.

Physics professor and planetarium director Rhett Herman offered commentary on the images, as well as their potential to educate and motivate future generations.

“One of the kids in here who’s 8 years old right now, what if they get inspired?” Herman said in the Times’ story. “What if they’re the first one to stand on Mars?

“That’s who we’re talking to.”

President Danilowicz Highlander Jeep

Presidential profiles

This summer saw another significant one-year anniversary as President Bret Danilowicz concluded his first term as head of Radford University.

The milestone was recognized in a July 17 Roanoke Times story about both Danilowicz and Roanoke College’s President Frank Shushok, who also took office last year.

A portrait of Danilowicz accompanies the story, depicting him standing alongside his red, tartan-wrapped Jeep.

In the piece, Danilowicz outlined his primary goal – “Enrollment stability remains our top priority as an institution,” he said – but he also discussed recent accomplishments, including the April opening of the expansive Highlander Hotel adjacent to campus, as well as landmarks in progress, such as next year’s completion of the Artis Center for Adaptive Innovation and Creativity.

The Artis Center “is a building which will house all of our performance areas for music and theater. But in addition, the classrooms will have an integration between our arts and our health science programs,” the president explained of the 178,000-square foot facility, under construction along Main Street, which will be the largest academic building on campus.

Reflecting on his first year, Danilowicz noted: “I’m just excited to be here. I’m excited to see how successful our students are, and I want to continue that pathway.”

This article was also picked up by The Daily Advent.

Bernice Cobbs, M.S. ’07 (Franklin County Public Schools)

A quarter century in education

When Bernice Cobbs, M.S. ’07, stepped down as Franklin County Public Schools superintendent last month, she was closing the chapter on a 25-year career in teaching, guidance and administration.

The first Black official to lead that school system of 6,200 students, Cobbs had previously served as principal of Benjamin Franklin Middle School and both Boones Mill and Snow Creek elementary schools, as well as the assistant principal of Franklin County High School and the division’s K-5 curriculum and instruction director. She rose to the office of superintendent in November 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And yet despite all that activity, it was a calling she first began to follow only after she was already well into her 30s and a mother of two.

A recent overview of Cobbs’ life and career – which ran in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Roanoke Times and the Franklin News Post – illustrates how, after working for a time in banking, local courts and as a legal secretary, she earned degrees at no fewer than five institutions, including a master’s degree at Radford University, in order to enter the world of education.

“It is something I always had a burning desire to do,” she explained in the story.

Jul 21, 2023
Neil Harvey