MAPS Conference 2018 – Margaret Noble Address

The Passion for the Planetarium – by Patty Seaton

Snapshot of 5th grade, my first trip to a planetarium, at the Howard B. Owens Science Center (HBOSC). I don’t remember the content of that program, but I remember the feeling of total awe of being under the stars.

Fast forward to ninth grade, the first day of Earth Science class. One of the pictures posted in the room was a recent Voyager flyby image of Jupiter, and I was captivated by it. I sought to know everything I could about that planet, and that day, I decided that instead of pursuing a career in singing, I wanted to be an astronomer.

Fast forward to college. I was an astronomy major at the University of Maryland at College Park. My Dad worked at the HBOSC, and said that the planetarium director was looking for people to work weekends for the public programs and Girl Scout programs, was I interested? Of course I was! I volunteered for about sixth months before getting paid for the part-time work, but I didn’t care about the pay. I had found my passion! At this point, I had been struggling with my physics courses in college and knew I wasn’t cut out to be a PhD astronomer, which was pretty much necessary to get a job in the field. But working with the public and the Scouts made me realize that my talents and strengths were perfectly suited for teaching in a planetarium!

Fast forward ten years. I had my mind set on working full time at HBOSC, but since it was part of the school system, I knew I had to become a certified teacher to even be considered. I went back to school and obtained a Masters in Science Education, Curriculum and Instruction. I left the field of industry and was hired on a provisional certificate at an elementary school that was clustered with the HBOSC. I became fully certified as a teacher in Maryland. And after two years serving as an elementary Science Resource teacher for grades K-6, a position opened up at HBOSC, one requiring planetarium experience. I had now been working there part time for 12 years. I got the job.

One year later, I took over the role of planetarium specialist (our system’s equivalent of planetarium director) and have now been there for 18 years full time, creating school programs tied into the curriculum and having the freedom to design creative public programs. We’ve even expanded to include concerts under the stars in addition to our regular Friday night series.