As the final form of Orange Coast College's 12,000-square-foot planetarium begins to take shape, the school has announced the hiring of Scott Mitchell as its Planetarium Manager.
Mitchell, who started at OCC just after the New Year, comes to Coast from the University of Maine, where he worked at the Maynard F. Jordan Planetarium and Observatory, part of the school's recently constructed Emera Astronomy Center. While there, he worked as both acting director from 2014-2015 while he was an undergraduate student, and as assistant director once a permanent director was hired and while he continued his studies as a graduate student pursuing a master's degree in engineering physics.
The Jordan Planetarium underwent a large renovation while Mitchell was there, with the construction of a new digital planetarium completed in 2014. Having had firsthand experience in the construction of a planetarium, Mitchell already has an idea of what he hopes to accomplish at OCC.
"The OCC Planetarium will serve three major groups: the first is the K-12 school system, and we're working really hard to integrate our content with the next generation of science standards so that it can fit into schools' curriculum easily," Mitchell says. "There's also the public — we're going to host 'public nights' where anyone can purchase a ticket to see a show. And then, of course there's the OCC community."
Mitchell has plans to invite instructors at OCC to develop programs that utilize the unique features that the planetarium has to offer, such as an immersion theater and Science on a Sphere National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration globe.
"We would like professors to be able to show their students things in the planetarium that they wouldn't be able to see otherwise," he explains. "A lot of people think a planetarium is just a tool for astronomy but it can do so much more than that. It's really a very powerful visualization tool for many subjects, including marine biology, graphic design, chemistry, and theater, just to name a few."
OCC's Planetarium — scheduled to open in September of this year — will serve as a premiere science center in Orange County, offering the community access to state-of-the-art technology that no other local facility has, such as a Foucault pendulum, which demonstrates the rotation of the earth.
"There are only so many of these facilities in the world," Mitchell says.
Students at OCC also will play a large role in helping to run the Planetarium; Mitchell has plans to hire student workers to give presentations, lead field trips, and more. "Students are going to be the backbone of the planetarium, and I think they'll learn just as much as they teach," he says.