STL professor recalls ‘Cosmos’ host Carl Sagan as star among the stars

It’s a small cosmos.

Sevan Terzian

Sevan Terzian

Sevan Terzian, an associate professor in the College of Education’s school of teaching and learning (STL), grew up knowing Carl Sagan, the vastly popular astronomer of the 1970s and ‘80s who was the host of the original 1980 “Cosmos” TV series on PBS that delved into the origins of our universe.

Sagan died in 1996 but his “Cosmos” series was resurrected this month by producer Seth MacFarlane, a science enthusiast whom many know as the creative force behind the animated TV sitcom “Family Guy.” According to a recent CNN news report, the updated series of “Cosmos” and its “ship of the imagination” — piloted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson — received excellent reviews after the first of 13 episodes aired on Sunday, March 9 on Fox, the National Geographic Channel and their affiliates.

Terzian knew Sagan because Terzian’s father, Yervant, was chairman of the astronomy department for two decades at Cornell University, where Sagan taught after being denied tenure at Harvard University.

“Not many people know that about Sagan and Harvard,” said Terzian, whose father has edited seven books, including Carl Sagan’s Universe. “Sagan was a family friend. I met him when I was about nine years old, before he had become really popular.

Carl Sagan, original "Cosmos" host

Carl Sagan, original “Cosmos” host

“Carl was a man of enduring hope,” added Terzian, who also heads STL’s graduate studies program. “He wanted to share his knowledge in ways that would help resolve social problems by helping humankind to understand its place in the universe. ‘Cosmos’ elevated his visibility greatly, and it’s remarkable how popular he became globally.”

Terzian also remembers – with a smile and a chuckle — when “Cosmos” first aired.

“I’m pretty sure it was a Sunday night because my younger sister and I wanted to watch the Muppets,” he said. “I was 11 years old, and we only had one TV. No one had VCRs back then, and I remember my father insisting that we watch ‘Cosmos’ because he needed to be able to answer questions about it the next day, in case anyone in the astronomy department asked him about it.

“So ‘The Muppet Show’ got preempted,” Terzian added with a laugh. “But I ended up really enjoying ‘Cosmos.’ I didn’t know it at the time, but it helped me to grasp the notion that science and history really matter — enormously.”

Terzian would go on to graduate from Cornell with a bachelor’s degree in history, and later receive a master’s degree in history from Indiana University before earning two Ph.Ds — in American studies and the history of education – in 2000, also at IU. He joined the UF education faculty in 2004.

Terzian’s book, “Science Education and Citizenship: Fairs, Clubs and Talent Searches for American Youth,” was published by Palgrave Macmillan in January 2013.