Andrea Waiters

B.S. Astronomy, B.A. Physics (Class of 2020)

Degree from UH Hilo, Minors & Certificates:

B.S. Astronomy, B.A. Physics



Where are you now and what are you doing:

I am currently working in Hilo for the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO).

Areas of Specialty:

I hope to attend graduate school for Geophysics and Planetology, and continue working on solar system projects that involve our moon, or the outer giant planets and their moons.

Places you have worked, interned or traveled to for your career:

NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab - Facility Tour with classmate
NASA's Johnson space center - Internship in the planetary exploration department
Imiloa Astronomy Center - Student Planetarium Assistant
UHH - Observational Astronomy Lab assistance; Physics Lab Assistant
The American Astronomical Society conference - Attended in January 2020 (the trip was funded by UUHSA so UAC members could experience a scientific conference).


My name is Andrea Waiters and I was born and raised in University Place, Washington. In 2011 I moved to Kauai, and after a few years I started my college career at the Kauai Community College. At the time I knew I wanted to study physics, but was not sure what university I would transfer to, or what specific discipline of study I wanted to get into. I have always been an astronomy enthusiast, my dad likes to remind me of the home video he has of him videotaping a lunar eclipse where you can hear my tiny voice asking him what the bright object below the moon is, then repeatedly saying “Jupiter!”, after he told me the name of what we were seeing. Although I always wondered about what was in space, I did not think astronomy was a realistic career path for me until I was in community college. I took an entry level astronomy course, and asked the professor if there was anything we could do outside of class for me to learn more. He was kind enough to show me how to use a small telescope, and also told me about the astronomy program at UH Hilo. Once I knew that I could still be in Hawaii, and get a degree in the field of my choice, there was no other option but for me to attend UH Hilo. I transferred in 2017, and could not be happier about the decision.

The physics and astronomy department works very hard to make sure the needs of the students are met. I appreciate the small class sizes, and the fact that the professors are open and available  to work with students outside of class time. Being someone that is a slow learner, and asks a lot of questions, the environment in the department was exactly what I needed to build my skills and confidence in my own way. I was given the opportunity to be the physics lab assistant, and the observational astronomy lab assistant. Working these jobs gave me hands-on experience that helped me feel more confident in my ability to implement the concepts we learn in class.

During my academic career I was also the president of the University Astrophysics Club (UAC). As president I was able to learn leadership skills, and have a ton of fun with my classmates doing outreach events, observing runs, science inquiries, and also just hanging out in our study room. Our club mentors, and head of the department were always very open to hearing our ideas, and always allowed us to use equipment to do fun inquiries, as long as we stayed safe of course! I feel that at a different university, my classmates and I may not have had the same freedom to use equipment and resources for us to have fun and learn in different ways, and am grateful that UH Hilo provided this experience for us. The island of Hawaii is also home to several world class observatories. Because of this students are able to shadow observation staff, and use data from the telescope facilities during some of the astronomy labs. This access to high end observatories isn’t really provided at other universities, and gave me the opportunity to learn about how observatories function, and get a hands-on look at astronomical instrumentation and implementation.


The professors also do a great job at helping you find which direction you want your career to take, if that's engineering, research, teaching, etc. After a few courses, I knew that I wanted to do planetary research, and after discussing this with several professors, I was asked by Dr. Heather Kaluna if I wanted to do an internship in the planetary department at the Johnson Space Center. I agreed to doing the internship, and began my research on looking at hydration of the lunar surface using spectroscopy. Since the project was a joint effort between UH and NASA, I was able to continue the research as Dr. Kaluna’s research assistant during my last semester at UH Hilo. I graduated in the fall of 2020 with a BA in physics and BS in Astronomy, and continued to work as a research assistant. Currently we are drafting the paper, and preparing for it to be published in an academic journal. This has been very exciting for me, as it is rare for an undergraduate to get the opportunity to publish an academic paper, and the work that I have done has given me the confidence to apply for graduate school, and provided me with skills that will help me succeed when I do move on to graduate school.

Advice for prospective/current students of UH Hilo Physics & Astronomy:

To current and prospective students, my advice is to not be discouraged by something that is hard, because most of the time a hard task is also the most rewarding. Also take advantage of the fact that the classes are small, talk with your professors and learn from them outside of class. Bonding with classmates is also important, and the fact that the department is small makes this easy. I recommend forming study groups early, as finding a few classmates to work with helps build understanding in several ways.

Graduating during a pandemic was less than ideal to say the least. Online learning was very difficult for me, and I made the decision to not apply for graduate school until in person learning is fully back. I am currently working as an observing assistant at the Submillimeter Array operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. In my free time I enjoy hiking on the mauna, watching anime, reading mangas and playing video games. I also love to talk about astronomy and space exploration with anyone, so if you would like to chat, or are a prospecting student that has questions, please feel free to reach me at

Andrea Waiters Photo

(Updated: August 10, 2021)