A Stellar Week

This semester I had an awesome opportunity to support my client. I drove four hours south to St. Louis through pouring rain. I was with my friend Emily, who works at the planetarium with me. Along the way, between Beatle’s songs and my very limited selection of Broadway tunes (basically just Hamilton), we were coming up with a list of topics for our panel discussion the next morning.

We were on our way to a planetarium conference, and we were so excited (if that’s not the nerdiest thing you’ve ever heard, then I don’t know what is).

The 2017 Pleiades National Planetarium Conference is the first national conference in about 30 years. Last year, the conference we went to was only regional, and we were blown away. We couldn’t wait to see what a national conference would bring to the table.

The first morning, we were a part of the first workshop. Titled “Challenges and Opportunities for College and University Planetariums,” our own director was supposed to be a panelist (he was the one who came up with the idea). But, ironically, due to scheduling conflicts, Dr. Case couldn’t even attend the conference. There’s just one example of a challenge for a university planetarium when the director is also a professor.

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Emily and I were on the panel in his stead, and it worked out perfectly. We were the only students on the panel (let alone some of the only students at the entire conference), so we were able to speak directly to how Strickler Planetarium can work with other departments, and opportunities for students. I offered some insight to our PR program and my role as account executive, ergo, social media manager, and the various events we have been able to do by working with this new team. The moderator came up to us right after the panel and gushed about how great it was to have student perspectives on the panel. And, throughout the conference, various people would stop us in the hall and say that we did a great job on the panel, or we would be casually chatting with someone and they would suddenly say, “Oh! You were on the panel Wednesday morning!” I felt like a celebrity.

The second day, Emily gave a ten-minute paper talk about her summer research project. As her summer roommate, I had witnessed some of this research firsthand, and I was so proud of her for presenting at a national conference (I had intended on submitting a presentation about the PR stuff I did last semester and over the summer, but, alas, I missed the submission deadline. Classic Katy). Emily’s project was designing and 3D printing a filar micrometer, which is a device used with telescopes to measure the orbits of double stars. Basically, it’s a tool that measures very small (from our perspectives) distances for objects that are very, very far away. And this girl figured out how to make one on her own. Her presentation went off without a hitch (even though she had to practice it in front of me multiple times before she was anywhere satisfied with it), and many people in the crowd were interested in her design and I was so freaking happy for her.

Now that we got the business out of the way, let’s move on to the fun stuff.

Planetarium conferences are great places to be. I’m obviously biased. I love being around a ton of like-minded people who are open-minded to new ideas and new technologies and who get excited over everything from laser lights to what the night sky will look like in 18 months to one science center who created a whole science day based around Harry Potter.

I also walked into the largest planetarium I have ever seen, with the best Zeiss LED projector that projected the best starfield my own two eyes have ever seen. Between the sponsor demos and various paper talks, I feel bad for Dr. Case for coming back with so many ideas of what to buy to improve our planetarium and all the different events we should do. But hey, he let us run free at a national conference, so he should have seen this coming.

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Emily and I were able to connect with a Strickler alum, Buddy Stark, who hosted the Great Lakes Planetarium Association (GLPA) conference and whose house we gratefully stayed at last year. We recognized a few more planetarians, which just proves that we’re making tangible connections with people we could very feasibly be working with in a few years’ time. We sat in at the state and regional meetings and were able to vote for some of the elections and by-law changes. I learned more about how GLPA works, and am considering joining (or trying to join) either the publications team or technology team.

But my favorite part? I met the event coordinator of the entire conference. And THAT is probably the nerdiest thing I’ve ever said (also, that I’m a PR nerd). We swapped business cards, and we tried for three days to come up with a good time for us to meet, but (understandably) Darla was extremely busy. We promised to one day have a conference call, because I think part of her was just as excited to have someone express an interest in event planning.

I sat in at two paper talks that talked about event planning, mostly for the eclipse. One presentation was basically event planning and PR 101, and I spent the whole ten minutes giggling because this is my life. My career dream is to work for a planetarium or science center as an event planner. I’d honestly be happy starting off as just an operator or whatever, but I have resigned myself to always having more ideas of community outreach and events for the planetarium than the planetarium can handle.

Written By: Katy Maurer, Account Executive

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