Space physicist Jerry Goldstein is still grateful for the Albert Shanker College Scholarship he received 30 years ago.
Goldstein, a senior at John Dewey HS in Brooklyn in 1988, was headed to Brooklyn College of the City University of New York in the fall to study physics.
Back then, students received $250 in scholarship money per semester.
“I was very poor, but had excellent grades,” Goldstein said. “That $250 check was cashed and quickly spent on books and sometimes contributed to food or rent as well.”
Goldstein and his two sisters were raised by a single mom on public assistance in Coney Island at a time when the effects of the city’s fiscal crisis could still be felt, especially in the schools. “We had big classes, few resources, and battered books,” Goldstein recalled. “The UFT scholarship was a big thing for me.”
At Mark Twain JHS, where he was focused on art at first, Goldstein became intrigued with physics. “Math was easy, but physics was the only thing I had to study for,” he said. “I couldn’t cram the night before.”
Jack DePalma, his physics teacher at Dewey HS, helped him manage the challenging subject. “He had a loose attitude that I really liked,” Goldstein said. “He would tell us there was no need to memorize equations because if you use them, you’ll understand them and remember them. That was a big thing for me.”
Goldstein was unable to attend the awards ceremony in 1988. “I had a budget for train fare,” he said. “I received the scholarship at my school’s graduation ceremony. I was the only student called up.”
After obtaining his Bachelor of Science degree in physics at Brooklyn College, he went on to Dartmouth College for his Ph.D. in space physics.
Goldstein has worked on NASA missions, and now, as a scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, he’s helping to develop cameras that capture images of space. “Ultimately, it will help us to understand the solar system and the universe,” he said.
Goldstein was recently moved to write to the UFT leadership — simply to express his gratitude.
“I’m writing to thank your organization, decades later, for your help,” he wrote. “Today, $250 doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but back then it made a very real difference to someone who struggled to pay for train fare and often skipped lunch to save money.”