Keivan Stassun

Physics & Astronomy

Vanderbilt University

















About me

I was born on July 9, 1972, in Los Angeles, California. I get my strange genetic admixture from my Mexican mother and Iranian father. My first name is Persian for Saturn, my middle name was my (maternal) grandmother's, and my last name is my German stepfather's.

I lived in the funky beach town of Venice until I was seven. When my mother and stepfather married, I moved to Encino in the San Fernando Valley (a.k.a. "the Valley"), where I consider myself to have grown up. The Valley has the dubious distinction of being the origin of Valleygirl speak.

I never knew my father. He left when I was an infant, never to reappear. Thus I know nothing of my paternal family history, and I've unfortunately never enjoyed much connection to my Iranian heritage.

My Mexican heritage, on the other hand, is one to which I relate very strongly. I was raised bilingually and speak Spanish fluently. My family's origins trace back to southern Mexico. Beginning with my grandmother and grandfather, who left Oaxaca for a small village outside of Guadalajara, my family's history has been a steady push north, toward the promise of a better life in "el norte".

My mother was one of only two (out of ten) children to venture across the border when she crossed at the age of twenty. She later met my father, and returned to Mexico to move the rest of the family closer to the US (outside of Tijuana). A few weeks before my birth, she decided to return to the US, intent on having her son born an American citizen. I was born in Los Angeles on July 9, 1972.

My mother set about gaining residency status and earning a high school equivalency, all while earning a living by cleaning homes in the Venice area, and we subsisted on food stamps and welfare. I attribute much of my drive in academics to my earliest memories of my mother studying late into the night for her equivalency and, later, for her citizenship. The day my mother became an American citizen was the proudest day of her life.

I moved to a working-class neighborhood in the Valley when my mother married my stepfather. I took my stepfather's name when I was eleven, and have used it as my own since. I am one of only two males in my generation carrying the Stassun name.

I was spared mainstream LA schools when I was identified "high IQ" and was recommended for a gifted magnet program. I attended Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies for both middle school and high school. During my high school years I participated in a number of activities: newspaper editor-in-chief, yearbook photographer, chorus, drama, speech and debate, varsity volleyball. I graduated second in my class.

Thinking I wanted to be an astronaut, I applied and was accepted to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. But I chose instead to attend Berkeley under a full scholarship. I gave the Navy a shot for a year, even going through "basic training" on Treasure Island, but eventually gave it up for good.

I studied Astronomy at Berkeley under the tutelage of Gibor Basri. While there, I organized a club for undergraduate astronomy majors, and set up and taught a lab for undergraduate majors. I was selected to deliver the Astronomy/Physics valedictory at my 1994 graduation. I also dabbled in theatre, both as an actor and lighting designer, and eventually as stage manager for the student theater.

I left the sunny climes of California to do my graduate work at the University of Wisconsin, under the guidance of Bob Mathieu. It was at Wisconsin that my ideas about the importance of combining scholarly practices in research, teaching, and outreach began to crystallize. In addition to carrying out my thesis research, I also became active in math/science education for minorities in the local schools, and I developed an astronomy outreach program (Scopes for Schools) which provides teachers with resources and training for teaching astronomy.

After completing my PhD in 2000, I spent a year helping to design, implement, and administer a new graduate fellowship program at Wisconsin called K-Through-Infinity Professional Development Partnership. This program partners graduate students in science and engineering with K-12 teachers to both enhance math/science teaching in the schools and to enhance professional development of graduate students.

I then spent two more years at Wisconsin as a Hubble Fellow before moving to Nashville in 2003. I currently hold the position of full professor of astronomy at Vanderbilt University, and also hold an adjunct position at Fisk University.

In 2004 I married Justine Stassun nee Clotfelter at the New Garden Friends Meeting in her hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina. Justine is Lab Manager for a pharmacogenomics of arrhythmia therapy research lab in the Vanderbilt Medical Center. On July 30, 2006, Justine gave birth to our son Jaime, and on February 2, 2009, to our son Emilio.