This website uses cookies to store information on your computer. Some of these cookies are used for visitor analysis, others are essential to making our site function properly and improve the user experience. By using this site, you consent to the placement of these cookies. Click Accept to consent and dismiss this message or Deny to leave this website. Read our Privacy Statement for more.
President's Message March 2017
Share |

A Message from President Shawn Laatsch

Shawn Laatsch












Dear Planetarians,

Best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2017!

I finished 2016 by making a “pilgrimage” back to where I had my first planetarium experience and started in this wonderful profession of sharing the universe with people of all ages. For Christmas I returned to my home town of Wausau, Wisconsin and had a chance to visit the newly renovated Wausau West High School Planetarium as a guest of their director, Chris Janssen, who has transformed the facility into a modern digital dome for the entire school district.

Back where it started

Back as a second grader, I attended my first planetarium program there given by Arnold “Arnie” Nelson. He gave me a chance to “help” him at the console by turning down the lights and turning up the stars. This hooked me, and I immediately knew it was what I wanted to do as a career.

When I returned to Wausau West as a high school freshman in 1984, Arnie gave me a chance to explore the field. He taught me how to run the Spitz A4, do slide production, give sky lectures, and interact with audiences. It started me down a wonderful path which continues to this day.

While in Wausau for the holiday, Arnie was visiting his family and we were able to meet at the planetarium and catch up. Arnie retired from Wausau West in 2001 and is still teaching astronomy and  living planetarium programs at Pensacola Christian College Planetarium—showing that the planetarium is not just a career, but a life’s passion.

More incredible mentors

Along the way I had incredible mentors, including Robert “Saturn” Allen at UW-La Crosse Planetarium, who encouraged me to pursue my career dreams (he also retired from UW La Crosse, but is now back there at the planetarium); John Hare, then at Bishop Planetarium in Bradenton, Florida; and Kris McCall, now at the Cernan Earth and Space Center at Triton College in Illinois. Each taught me unique lessons and shaped my journey, and I want to thank them for all of the inspiration they have provided and continue to provide.

A focus of this issue of Planetarian is Women in Astronomy and is one that is very important to the future of the field. As planetarians we have a responsibility to encourage young women to pursue their dreams and explore science career opportunities. We must welcome them and stand by them when they encounter challenges of gender inequality.

Women have added so much to our understanding of our universe. From Caroline Herschel, who discovered comets and the dwarf galaxy M110, to Henrietta Swan Leavitt, who uncovered the period-luminosity relationship of Cepheid variable stars. Annie Jump Cannon created the stellar classification based on spectra and classifying more than 300,000 objects. Vera Rubin measured angular motion in galaxy rotation, basically proving that dark matter exists (she really should have had a Nobel Prize for this in my opinion).

All of these women are giants in the field and all of us see farther as we have “stood on their shoulders.”

Geller presentation was a spark

Seeing one of Margaret Geller’s presentations on galaxies and large scale structures sparked my interest in this area, which continues to this day and inspired me to work to bring data sets into the dome to share this wonderful science. These giants have inspired their peers and the next generation, including Nathalie Batahla, co-investigator on the exoplanet finding Kepler Mission, who spoke to us at the IPS2012 conference in Baton Rouge, and Michelle Thaller, who served as the public outreach manager for the Spitzer Mission, who, I’m proud to say, is from my home state of Wisconsin. This is just a tiny example of the tremendous impact women have had and continue to have on astronomy.

Three brilliant African-American women are highlighted in the film Hidden Figures, based on the inspiring true story of the women who worked at NASA during the 1950s and ‘60s. Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson were engineers and human “computers” who helped launch the crewed spaceflight program. At a time when women and African Americans were still widely discriminated against, these courageous women gave so much of themselves to advance science, and we are indebted to them.

The three are excellent role models, and their story shows how integrity, perseverance, and teamwork prevail even in the midst of great odds and the deck was stacked against them. These women are true heroes and I urge you to see the film if you haven’t already done so. They pioneered the way and made it possible for new heroes like Mae Jemison, the first female African-American astronaut, to be role models for today young girls and women. Mae flew on the Space Shuttle back in 1992. She is a physician, engineer, astronaut, and innovator. She’s made appearances on Star Trek too!

The women in our field

Over the years I’ve been fortunate to have some very influential women as mentors and colleagues in my field, each imparting different lessons and perspectives which have shaped the way I think about what we do in our domes. Kris McCall, Lee Ann Hennig, Susan Button, Ascunsion Sanchez, Simonetta Ercoli, and Jeanne Bishop are a few of the women in this field who have impacted how I approach the planetarium and its usage. They are inspirational, push the boundaries, and impact the field in ways too numerous to be counted.

The changing of the guard

As the new year began there was a “changing of the guard” with the IPS officers and, of course, the work of the society continues. Let me begin by expressing my sincerest gratitude and thanks to Lee Ann Hennig and Thomas Kraupe for their service as officers. Lee Ann has tirelessly served IPS in the role of executive secretary since 1995 and kept all of the officers up to date on our “to do” lists, officer calendar, minutes, votes, etc.—and so much more. I know I speak for numerous presidents before in saying that words cannot express the huge “thank you” we owe you for all you have done.

Thomas Kraupe has finished a second round in the president role (first round from 1995-2000) and during both terms pushed the society in new directions, focusing on professional development and conferences, along with innovation. He traveled a great deal building numerous connections and always reminding us of the importance of the I in IPS.

We are first and foremost an international group. This is even more important now. Thomas, along with Paul Knappenberger, initiated Vision2020, our strategic planning, with the aim of transforming IPS by the year 2020. This initiative is well on its way, and look for more to come as we move forward with this process of updating and modernizing our organization for its members.

On behalf of the members, officers, and council, thank you both for your exceptional service and dedication to our organization.

While two officers are departing, Joanne Young now moves into the past president role and Ann Bragg continues as treasurer, and also as membership chair. Thank you to both of you for your continued service! Joanne has been actively engaged with the Vision2020 team, ensuring we continue to move forward with this initiative and strengthening membership options and services. Ann Bragg has been keeping us on a strong financial path and making sure members get all of their Planetarians and other benefits. This is a large task, and we appreciate all you do to keep things running smoothly.

Welcome to our newest officers: Mark SubbaRao is our new president elect, and Rachel Thompson, our new executive secretary. Thank you for your willingness to serve our organization in these roles and be a part of the team which helps provide services to our members, works to ensure our conferences are successful, and, with council, guides the organization in numerous ways. We look forward to working with you!

Important by-law amendments

Late last year, ballots on two IPS by-laws amendments were mailed to all members for voting. These two initiatives proposed going to completely electronic voting, not just for officers, but also for by-laws changes as well. This helps move the IPS into the modern age, and will help make voting more accessible and timely. Both initiatives passed and are now in our updated by-laws which you can access through the IPS website.

The IPS officers were set to convene in February to continue working on Vision2020, planning for our conference in Toulouse in 2018, planning for the IPS Council meeting in St. Louis (which will take place just prior to the Pleaides Conference), and exploring a variety of initiatives for the organization.

The IPS is a member organization and I encourage you to take part in your society by sharing your talents. Organizations like this are only as strong as the member contributions of their time. Please consider writing an article for Planetarian, volunteering for one of the committees, or serving in other ways. Please let me and the other officers know your thoughts on how we can improve the society and enhance opportunities for your professional growth in the field, or if you have an area that you would like to contribute to. Thank you for being a member of this society and for sharing the universe with the world.

about ips | find a planetarium | officers | privacy policy

International Planetarium Society, Inc | c/o Ann Bragg, Treasurer | Marietta College, 215 Fifth Street | Marietta, Ohio 45750 USA