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2019 Candidate Statements - North America
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Statements from IPS Board Candidates in North America

Vote for no more than two; ballot available 1 Oct 2019.

photo of Michele Wistisen

I have a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. Working at the Casper Planetarium since 1996 has given me a fundamental background in astronomy. With that knowledge I have helped design astronomy curriculum for our school district, written and produced planetarium programs, and given presentation at various educational conferences.

In 2010 was selected to be the American Planetarian in Italy. This opportunity led me to host David Gruber from Italy in 2017 and Guilherme Marranghello in 2019 for the “A Week in the United States” program. I believe that we have a lot to learn from each other and participating in a cultural exchange is the best way to model good teaching.

I was selected to be a National Space Foundation liaison in 2012 and a Solar System Ambassador in 2018 and I still represent these organization as an outreach presenter. These organizations require me to do outreach throughout my community. As such I have developed a wide spectrum of presentations that range from NASA missions to how we know what stars are made of.

I am currently the president of the Rocky Mountain Planetarium Association and a member of the International Planetarium Society Education Committee. As president I attempt to make contact with planetariums in my region and invite them to participate in the RMPA and IPS communities. I also contribute regularly to articles in the Great Western Observer. As a member of the IPS Education Committee, I accepted the responsibility of being the contact person for the committee when people are looking for the best ways to teach in the dome.

My vision as a board member from North America would be to represent the various affiliate groups from each region and to present their needs to IPS, and to see how IPS could help them. One issue that I see now is the National Science Standards, which many states have adopted, has virtually eliminated astronomy from the elementary curriculum. As a school district planetarium I have had to find ways to address the new science standards and keep school groups satisfied that a trip to the planetarium was worth their time. By collaborating with the American affiliates I believe we can address this issue and work with planetariums around the world to create new content/curriculum that would be valuable to any planetarium, no matter where they are in the world.

As an IPS board member I believe it is important that we send the message that all are welcome at the table where we can work together to inspire the next generation to appreciate our small blue dot and participate in our efforts to explore our universe.

Nominated by: Rocky Mountain Planetarium Association

photo of Dayna Thompson

I am running for one of the IPS North America Board positions in order to help represent the current climate, concerns, and goals of our planetarium community. I understand the commitment involved, and I am prepared to provide my wholehearted dedication to serve the IPS. Additionally, as Director of the Brown Planetarium at Ball State University (Muncie, IN), my institution is in full support of my current and future efforts to represent, and travel for, the IPS.

My past roles in professional associations have prepared me for this position. For example, after hosting the 2014 Great Lakes Planetarium Association (GLPA) conference, I served on the GLPA Executive Committee as technology chair and webmaster for almost three years. I remain an active member of the GLPA Technology Committee today.

Furthermore, I am a member of the IPS Education Committee and I serve as a sub-committee member for the IPS Vision 2020 Goal #6, formed to encourage younger members to become involved in the future of the IPS. As a member of the IPS Education Committee, I played a major role in the creation of documents outlining the value of education in the planetarium. It is my goal to help create more member resources for our community as a part of my future IPS leadership.

I regularly contribute to articles to Planetarian and volunteer my time for various IPS causes and initiatives. I am active on planetarium professional development sites and list-servs, and I volunteer my time regularly to update the IPS on-line event calendar. I also volunteered to design the document that outlines the new IPS Society Governance Structure, complete with a detailed map of the zones.

I understand the importance of communicating IPS goals and missions in a clear, descriptive, and concise manner. Additionally, I understand the importance of branding, marketing, and advertisement, and my design and communication skills will aid in my continued promotion of the IPS on various platforms.

Working with multiple professional organizations and contributing to scholarly publications has afforded me experience in: leadership and management, conference planning and event production, marketing and communications, recruitment and retention, and more. These experiences helped me play a key-role in strengthening equity, diversity, and inclusion within the IPS by having direct, formal conversations with IPS leadership earlier this year.

If elected, I pledge to maintain an open dialogue with the North American planetarium community in order to remain mindful of the voices of my peers when representing our views on IPS issues; and I will endeavor to cultivate and maintain a culture where all of our opinions are valued, respected, and considered.

Nominated by: Great Lakes Planetarium Association

Photo of Benjamin Mendelsohn

As a youth, I attended every new program produced at the A.F. Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Little did I know…

Attending high school, I was introduced to Charles Hagar, who ran the planetarium training program at San Francisco State University. He let this high school student use the Spitz 512 and recommended me to Morrison Planetarium when they were looking for student hires. That was the start of a quarter-century relationship as I worked in the many part-time positions at the Morrison Planetarium: usher, cashier, floor manager, weekend technician, and lecturer.

Enrolled as an undergraduate student in electrical engineering, I also taught in the Holt Planetarium and physical science program at the Lawrence Hall of Science on the University of California campus.

After graduation, I worked as an engineer in industrial automation and as a systems analyst. After finishing graduate school in aerospace engineering, I worked as a NASA contractor on a space biology project.

While working in my various engineering positions, I also taught astronomy at San Francisco State University (Professor Hagar hired me once I had a college degree) and in the Minolta Planetarium at DeAnza College.

In 1998, I became the full-time astronomy faculty and planetarium director at West Valley College. We teach our classes, primarily to non-science majors, with a Spitz A4, though I’m now putting the finishing touches on a new 41-foot hybrid planetarium to be completed this year.

I served as president of the Pacific Planetarium Association (PPA) from 2006-2017. I attended my first IPS meeting in Chicago in 1980 and have served as IPS PPA affiliate representative since 2013. As a member of the council, I have been participating in the Vision 2020 initiative to restructure and reinvigorate the IPS. I am honored to have been nominated as a perspective board member to represent North America.

As you may glean from my background, I bring a familiarity with small and large planetariums, the perspective of an educator from science museums and academia, industry experience, and expertise as an officer. While I embrace technology, I feel that IPS conferences should emphasize the mission of the planetarium as educational institutions. As a board member, I will continue to work for you on IPS reorganization in support of your educational mission, achieving balance between individual/institutional desires and vendor needs, attracting new membership to invigorate IPS with fresh ideas and energy—all in a spirit of diversity and inclusion.

Nominated by: Pacific Planetarium Association

Photo of Levent Gurdemir

I am honored to receive a nomination for this brand new and very prestigious IPS position. I truly think that IPS will be a stronger organization with its new governance structure introducing new board members and officers. As an active member of the Vision 2020 Initiative, I enjoyed helping to shape this new governance structure over the past year.

I started my planetarium career in 2006 when I was graduate student at the University of Texas at Arlington by running the university’s smaller planetarium for astronomy labs. In 2008, I became the director of the university’s newer and bigger planetarium (UTA Planetarium) that extends its mission to K-12 and public outreach. Since then, I have been running successful programs at UTA that resulted in attendance growth and strong engagement with the community.

Since 2008, I have been an active participant in planetarium conferences as well as local and regional planetarium organizations. I have served Southwestern Association of Planetariums (SWAP) as Vice President and President capacity (twice). I am currently the Past-President and IPS Representative of the same organization. I hosted very successful and well attended Western Alliance Conference (WAC 2014). I also bid to host IPS 2018 which Toulouse, France site was the winner. I attended IPS 2008 (Chicago), 2012 (Baton Rouge), 2016 (Warsaw), 2018 (Toulouse) conferences as well as several WAC, SEPA, GLPA, and LIPS meetings. I attended IPS Council Meetings in Montreal (2015) as the conference bid host, Toulouse (2018) and Reykjavik (2019) as the affiliate representative. I am an active member of IPS, SWAP, and GLPA.

I am currently serving at the IPS Vision 2020 committee for the goal #5. I am also a board member of Texas Space Grant Consortium (TSGC).

If I am elected as a new board member of the new IPS governance structure, my goal would be to help the organization to grow in membership, enrich its member benefits, and establish environments promoting diversity and inclusion within the organization. I would like to see the organization reaching 800+ members from all around the world standing as the umbrella organization to the entire planetarian community. I also would like to help the organization further the already initiated policies and procedures to eliminate discrimination and harassment within community and create safe, comfortable, and transparent platform for all. I fully support the zero tolerance policy in the aforementioned issues.

In conclusion, as a young member of the community I am very motivated to serve at the IPS board and engage in open, transparent communication with the IPS members.

Nominated by: Southwestern Association of Planetariums

Photo of Jean Creighton

I would like to work toward helping all planetariums reach as broad an audience as possible to inspire and teach. I am particularly interested in building collaborations among planetariums to share engaging content with emphasis on live interactions with the audience. Many planetariums run on small budgets with 1-2 full time staff and could do more if they worked with other colleagues. I would like to continue professional development through webinars as well.

I grew up in Athens, Greece near the Eugenideíou Planetarium. I completed my graduate studies in astrophysics in Canada and I worked on an infrared satellite at the California Institute of Technology. In 1999, I moved to Milwaukee and taught astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM). I fell in love with planetarium programming in 2006 and was hired as the director of the Manfred Olson Planetarium at UWM in 2007. All our programs are live, making the most of our optomechanical projector and our in house productions.

I enjoy developing topics such as the “Birth of the Universe” and “Northern Lights.” I also enjoy collaborating with people on campus and our community to create programs such Indigenous Voices: Sharing Wisconsin Skies.” I have been active in the Great Lakes Planetarium Association (GLPA) as part of the Education Committee and as part of the team that created “Live from the Planetarium.” I have contributed several articles to Planetarium on various topics, including Greek mythology and how best to teach people to identify constellations.

Nominated by: Great Lakes Planetarium Association

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