lthough Goodsell Observatory was not to continue as a national to force and symbol in astronomy - and although astronomy had as a result lost a measure of its prestige and importance at Carleton - the science managed to rebound from its troubles and retain a vital place at the College. When Robert T. Mathews was hired in 1954 as the new director of the observatory and professor of mathematics and astronomy, he was charged with reinvigorating the program by (in order of importance) refashioning the courses for non-scientists, attracting new majors, and conducting what research was still possible with the Goodsell equipment. Course enrollments and the number of majors quickly equaled or surpassed pre-war levels: between 1954 and 1984 there were 3,600 students in astronomy courses at Carleton; between 1954 and 1970 sixteen students received a B.A. in astronomy.
Mathews' insistence on continuing the tradition of having his students do hands-on work with the two telescopes not only made the courses more interesting than simple lectures would have been, but also turned out to be fine preparation for the twelve graduates who went on to do advanced work in astronomy. (Ironically, eight of these alumni worked, at least initially, at Carleton's one-time rival, the U.S. Naval Observatory - where Mathews had been an assistant astronomer during World War II.)
As one major recalled, her undergraduate training in astronomy compared favorably with those of other assistants at the Naval Observatory, some from major universities. "The background provided by Carleton's courses, which included practical applications as well as theory, better prepared its graduates to function effectively with a minimum of on-the- job training.... [T]his preparation was due directly to [Mr. Mathews'] teaching and management of the curriculum." Out of this combination of practice and theory came eight graduates who have made careers in astronomy - including one of the nation's leading astronomers, the current director of the National Optical Astronomy Observatories, Sidney Carne Wolff '62. - Mathews' research - in which he was assisted by his advanced students - consisted primarily of the measurement of double stars and the study of the differential photometry of variable stars. Work on variable stars was materially assisted by the construction of a new photometer in 1965, funded with part of a National Science Foundation grant. Like Fath's earlier instrument, the new photometer was manufactured at Carleton by the College's regular machinists and technicians. Unlike Fath's version, the new model was highly sophisticated, quite sensitive, and far more reliable.
In addition to teaching and research, Mathews' re-established an old tradition when, in 1957, he was awarded the first of 14 consecutive National Science Foundation grants for an in-service institute for high school teachers. These summer institutes brought teachers from throughout the region to improve their knowledge and skill in math and astronomy. As early as 1881, William Payne had reported that special "pains have been taken to provide for teachers from neighboring towns and cities - with or without their classes, and such visits have not been infrequent." Along with the unbroken ritual of public viewing nights at the observatory, these NSF summer programs insured that the Carleton observatory remained a vital and useful part of a broad community.