Student veteran combines electronics and physics to assist with telescopes’ automation


When U.S. Army veteran Ronnie Andrawis completed his military duty after four years of service, he wasn’t sure how he would transition back into his community or the work force.


Ronnie Andrawis works at the Murillo Family Observatory. Photo courtesy of Alex Hedstrom.

After his military discharge in 2003, Andrawis attended trade school and became a certified electrician. After three years of working for an electrical contractor, he still hungered for something even more challenging. Andrawis had always excelled in math in high school and was intrigued by physics and what made things tick.

“I’ve always asked myself, ‘What’s the hardest thing I could take on to learn?’” said Andrawis. So he returned to college and enrolled at CSUSB in 2008 to study physics.

Now in his final year of courses – with a 3.8 G.P.A. while working a full-time job and being a new father of twin boys – he plans to graduate next spring.

The 32-year-old Highland resident is eager to apply the skills and knowledge he’s gleaned from the military, from electrical trade school and now from his physics education to an environment that is intellectually stimulating.

Andrawis had been working closely with CSUSB physics professor Laura Woodney on various projects when he was approached about assisting the physics department with the automation of one of the two telescopes in the newly built CSUSB Murillo Family Observatory. Andrawis jumped at the chance.

“It’s a great opportunity to apply what I’ve learned as an electrician and the expertise I have gained in automation and integration to the assembly of the dome automation,” he said.

Andrawis has spent countless hours over the past several months carefully assembling, preparing and testing the telescope dome in time for next month’s observatory ribbon cutting.

“We were incredibly lucky to have Ronnie in our department during the time we were putting the observatory together,” said Woodney. “Without his expertise in electronics and automation we would not have had the dome for the 17-inch telescope running under computer control in time for the opening this fall.”


CSUSB physics professor Laura Woodney and Ronnie Andrawis at the newly built Murillo Family Observatory. Photo courtesy of Alex Hedstrom.

“We are going to be able to run the telescope under complete robotic control probably a year ahead of what I expected, due to the time and the skills Ronnie has donated to the observatory,” she said.

Andrawis believes working with Woodney on this project will prepare him for other opportunities, open doors for him and give him an edge up.

“Dr. Woodney is an incredible person and a great astrophysicist,” he said. “She has been a wonderful mentor to me.”

Andrawis, who served in the 82nd Airborne Division, received the Artillery Soldier of the Year award in 2001. “It was a very proud time for me; it showed that if you work hard, you will be recognized for it.”

As Veterans Day draws near, Andrawis reflected on what the day signifies to him.

“Although it’s been eight years since my separation from the military, Veterans Day is an emotional day for me,” said Andrawis. “I often think about the friends that did not come home to their families and it’s especially tough on Veterans Day. Basically it means never forgetting those who were at my side in battle.”

For more information about the Murillo Family Observatory, contact the university’s Office of Public Affairs at (909) 537-5007 and visit