/UM gathers (and travels) for eclipse 
UM professor Dr. Bruce Finklea observes the ecliplse. Photo by Carter James.

UM gathers (and travels) for eclipse 

By Cady Inabinett, Editor in chief 

Students, faculty and staff members and Montevallo community members gathered on Farmer Hall’s patio on April 8 to catch a glimpse of a solar eclipse passing over North America.  

The University of Montevallo’s Astronomy Club organized a viewing event for the solar eclipse. The group handed out special eclipse viewing glasses, which protected the eyes of viewers looking directly at the sun, to attendees and set up a telescope to view the eclipse through. 

Astronomy Club President Samantha Cost was excited and optimistic as the event kicked off. 

“Astronomy Club doesn’t get to really host many daytime events—of course, we’re Astronomy Club so we look at the stars, we look at all the stuff at night,” said Cost. 

Cost pointed out that while the last solar eclipse visible in Alabama occurred in 2017, the next one won’t occur until 2044—making this event extra special for the club. 

Planning the viewing event has taken Cost and other Astronomy Club members most of the semester. In addition to getting items such as eclipse glasses ordered, Cost and Astronomy Club adviser Jecca Shumate have also participated in online training and lessons with NASA through their Eclipse Ambassadors of the Astronomy Society of the Pacific program in order to be as educated as possible about the eclipse. 

“I have been working on planning this since, probably, January,” said Cost, adding, “That is four months of work for an event that is three hours long.” 

But, for Cost, the hardest part of organizing the event was, “Praying that it wouldn’t be raining, because that’s the number one problem with Astronomy Club is it is a weather-based club.” 

As for the turnout for the event, Cost said she was, “Very surprised with the turnout. I honestly wish we had bought more eclipse glasses because I didn’t think this many people cared about the eclipse or were free in the middle of the day.” 

Montevallo was not in the path of totality for the eclipse, but a partial eclipse was still expected to be seen in the area.  

Eager attendees crowded the patio and lawn outside of Farmer Hall, gazing upwards with their eclipse glasses on. Excited chatter grew as the eclipse began at approximately 12:45 p.m., with the moon beginning to move across the sun.  

However, as the eclipse approached its peak at approximately 2:00 p.m., the excited chatter turned to sounds of dismay as a large cloudbank rolled across the sky, blocking views of the sun. 

While views of the eclipse were impeded, Cost was still happy with the outcome of the event. 

“I was so happy to host and support this eclipse event. It was really, really fun and really, really cool. I’m glad that Montevallo students and faculty came and supported me,” Cost said, before adding, “Wish it was a little less cloudy, but that’s okay.” 

Not everyone stayed in Montevallo to view the eclipse. Some students and faculty decided to travel into the path of totality to get the full eclipse experience. 

English professor Dr. Cynthia Mwenja traveled on April 8 to Jonesboro, Ark., driving about 5 hours through Memphis rush-hour traffic to get into the path of totality. 

Mwenja said she had wanted to travel to see the eclipse after missing out on seeing the previous eclipse in 2017.  

“My husband had gone to see the last eclipse, but it actually coincided with my first day of work here at the University of Montevallo,” said Mwenja. “And, so, I didn’t feel I could miss my first day of work to go to an eclipse. And so, I just wanted to have experience, and didn’t figure, you know, maybe at the advanced age I’ll be in 2045 I won’t want to travel for that one.” 

Mwenja reported having better eclipse viewing than those who stayed in Montevallo, saying that she and her family were able to, “see everything beautifully.” 

“It didn’t reach that level of life-changing for me,” said Mwenja, before adding, “But maybe life-affirming.” 

“It was awe-inspiring, and it did remind me to take time to go and experience things,” said Mwenja.  

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Cady Inabinett is the editor in chief of The Alabamian. She’s majoring in English and double-minoring in political science and peace and justice studies. She enjoys reading, watching movies, caring for houseplants and generally just being pretentious in her free time.