Recent upgrades to the facilities and services at The University of Texas-Pan American's H-E-B Planetarium were celebrated at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Sept. 26 attended by regional and local H-E-B officials and University faculty, staff and administrators.
UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas thanked H-E-B for their help in bringing such a facility to South Texas students and described how a trip to UTPA's planetarium years ago as child led her friend Dr. Francisco G. Cigarroa, president of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, to pursue a career in science.
"He (Cigarroa) has told me that he was so taken by the presentation that the whole world of science was opened up to him. He went on to become a nationally renowned pediatric transplant surgeon, a Yale, Harvard and Johns Hopkins-educated Texan and the first Hispanic in the United States to lead a health science institution. And it all began right here in this planetarium," she said. "Every day each and every one of us has an opportunity to reach out and contribute positively to the destiny of a small child, to open up a world, nurture an imagination or affirm a sense that everything is possible. There is no better place, no more powerful place for this to happen than this place where students can look up and imagine themselves affecting this great universe."
The planetarium also now offers a presentation schedule of four new full-dome digital videos that can also be shown in the portable planetarium. The videos include "Sky Quest" for elementary/middle school students, "Oasis in Space" for high school students, "Hubble Vision 2" for adults/Winter Texans, and "Dinosaur Prophecy," a video for all ages to complement UTPA's Visitors Center exhibition "A T. Rex Named Sue," being hosted at the University until Jan. 4, 2009. A complete daily schedule is available at www.utpa.edu/planetarium. School and group tours can be arranged by calling 956/316-7088 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
Through its partnerships with UTPA for planetarium upgrades and on other projects, H-E-B hopes to further the educational goals especially in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields of the communities H-E-B serves said Shelly Parks, director of Public Affairs at H-E-B.
"The educational value of the planetarium is to spark children's interest," she said.
Dr. Edwin LeMaster, dean of the College of Science and Engineering, said students come out of the planetarium excited about astronomy and wanting to learn more.
"I think the significance of the effort that we put into maintaining and upgrading the planetarium will pay huge dividends in the number of students in the Rio Grande Valley who decide to study science and engineering. Just this year the number of majors in science and engineering increased to 3,400 majors out of 18,000 students and our engineering enrollment this fall grew by over 10 percent than last fall," he said.
Since the enhancements were installed in April 2008, 6,594 visitors have attended the planetarium through September said Dr. Steven C. Tidrow, associate professor and chair of the UTPA Department of Physics and Geology, which oversees the planetarium. He said the planetarium offers experiences that students, both university and pre-K-12, would not have at other places and has unlimited potential in affecting the community.
"Statistics show that if we aren't affecting children by sixth grade so that they want to learn the language of science, engineering and technology then we have little opportunity in the future and they are the future," Tidrow said.
For more information on the planetarium or to schedule a tour, call 956/316-7088 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.