It makes a difference

David Merrell

Most of the time I’ll delve into the tech side of the planetarium, but I decided to take a different track this time. It’s long past due to acknowledge those that make a difference. Being that I know the effect a select few have made in my life I’d like to relate a little about persons who took time from their schedule to instill in me a sense of it can be done, a sense of logic and a sense of wonder for it all.

My fascination with the universe, I would say, was somewhat nascent till about 4th grade when a teacher at my elementary started a chapter of the Young Astronauts Club. My parents had always encouraged my exploration, but the Young Astronauts was really the launching point for a love affair with the space program and what mankind can do. Students in the program were excited to learn new things about space, even though it wasn’t anything you got credit for in school. Activities provided by the program got me into rocketry, observing and experimenting. You don’t see much of the clubs anymore, which I think is a horrible loss.

Fifth grade brought into my life a teacher that I still respect and admire to this day. Mrs. Hacken took the time to build activities that didn’t revolve around a video or a dry lecture. It seemed like every subject had some hands-on and experience oriented lesson plan. This was the first time I went to the Hansen Planetarium as well. I begged my parents to haul me up there again. Back in the classroom we tried to successfully land our “egg-astronauts” without killing them with the sudden stop associated with a fall from the top of the school building. I’ve found it rare to have a teacher that invested in the learning of their students, and I was lucky enough to have a similar teacher in 6th grade as well. Mrs. Hacken also introduced me to the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center in Pleasant Grove, Utah. To this day I still hold that there is no better way to teach than mixing sound educational material with entertainment. It causes the student to become excited enough about a subject that they will seek out more information on their own.

The Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center and the staff their launched my interests past a fascination to a want to be involved. I volunteered there for a great many years before leaving to go onto college. During my time there I got to be the instructor for students coming in and learned part of why the teachers who educated me had been so passionate about it. The moment when it clicks, when the light comes on and a student takes off on their own is a reward in and of itself. This is also where I picked up 3D graphics and programming. The recommendation letter from the director at the space center, I believe, is part of what got me in the door at the planetarium.

After finally setting foot in the Clark Planetarium, I started as a show presenter. But I really wanted to get my foot in the door of the production department so I could use some of the 3D skills I’d picked up which working for the C.M.S.E.C. Mike Murray and Aaron McEuen let me, sometimes through trial and error, get started into adding things into the playlist for the theater. And that pretty much brings us to where I am today.

There’s a lot more detail to be added, obviously. I thought the important part though, is to acknowledge the people who often go thankless for the time they spent educating and encouraging a child, a teenager and an adult.

Kids, tell your parents thank you for spending the 50 minutes of drive time to take you to the planetarium. Tell your teachers thank you for making science come alive. Because they all make a difference.

From the basement…

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