MOORHEAD – One of the benefits of growing up on a farm near Forest River, N.D., was an unobstructed view of the night sky.
Sara Schultz was studying the stars long before she was hired as an instructor and planetarium coordinator at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
Schultz said she had no intention of teaching when she enrolled to study physics and astronomy at MSUM. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she went on to earn a master’s degree in physics from the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
She moved to St. Paul after graduation and began volunteering with the Minnesota Planetarium Society. It was there she realized she had an interest in public outreach and science education.
When an MSUM faculty member approached her five years ago to come back and teach at the university, she thought, “OK, I’ll try it and see how it goes.”
Q: What do you like about your job?
A: I love being able to teach in the classroom and in an informal environment like the planetarium. We get a lot of “oohs” and “ahhs” here in the planetarium. It’s a lot of fun to bring kids in who have never been here before.
The classes I teach are generally ones for non-majors. They’re taking the class because they have to fulfill their science credits, not necessarily because they want to learn. That’s a great challenge, but it’s also a great reward when you see that light bulb come on in their mind.
What can people expect from a visit to the planetarium?
Normally when people think of a planetarium, they think of looking at the night sky. We can definitely do that, but now that we have a digital projector, there is a lot more we can do as well.
Some programs are educational, and others are more for entertainment.
Our next event is LaserFest 2015, which features laser shows set to music from bands like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles as well as younger artists like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Justin Bieber.
We’ve also got a new educational program coming up called “Sun Struck” that talks about the sun and its effects, both positive and negative, on the Earth.
We had one this fall called “Back to the Moon” that talked about the space race being sponsored by Google right now.
We’re also looking at expanding these shows to biology. … There is a show I’m looking at now that basically puts you underwater so you’re traveling into the depths of the sea looking at different organisms that live in extreme environments or coral reefs. It’s almost like you’re underwater and looking up at the fish.
Of course we can also go out and visit planets and different galaxies. That’s always fun, too.
Can people hold events in the planetarium?
I actually was contacted this week about holding a wedding here under the stars. That’s kind of fun.
We’ve rented the planetarium out for events like birthday parties in the past.
Everyone can get something out of the planetarium. People don’t realize how cool it is. The comments I generally get from people who visit the first time are “Wow, I didn’t know this was here” or “Wow, this is so much cooler than I thought it was going to be.”
This is a really cool job to have. I get to travel through space. I get to travel faster than the speed of light on a regular basis, and I get to manipulate time. It’s kind of like being Master of the Universe.
What: MSUM Planetarium
Where: Bridges Hall on the Minnesota State University campus
Phone: (218) 477-2920