|Trevor Henry had no idea when he started volunteering at The Planetarium at UT Arlington as a high school student that he would eventually decide he wanted to do it for a living.
But six years later Henry - now a senior at UT Arlington majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies with an emphasis in Education - knows that teaching people about space and the stars in a planetarium setting is exactly what he wants to do.
Henry is the planetarium's lead educator and technician. He talks with visitors and answers questions prior to shows, and then he uses the facility's state-of-the-art projection system to take visitors on fantastic voyages across the universe.
"From the time I first started working here, I just thought it was a great place, and getting the chance to teach people about science is a lot of fun," he said. "I'd really love to make it my career."
Henry's dedication to the planetarium and to educating those who attend shows have earned him a Hamilton Planetarium Scholarship, given to students interested in gaining employment in the planetarium field as professionals. The Hamilton Planetarium Scholarship Fund was created in 2010 and is awarded to only a few students nationwide each year. The scholarship will help Henry with college expenses and also entitles him to memberships in the international and regional planetarium associations.
"I was really just so thankful and shocked they chose me for the scholarship," Henry said. "It's a great honor to be recognized in this way."
Planetarium director Levent Gurdemir said in addition to being great with groups of school-age students who frequently visit the Planetarium, Henry has thorough knowledge of the facility's Digistar 5 technology, having completed technician training last year.
"Trevor is an enthusiastic presenter, educator and technician," Gurdemir said. "He is doing fabulous work at the Planetarium and is inspiring young kids about science."
Henry has a way of connecting with kids and commanding their attention - which isn't always easy with a theater full of rambunctious children.
"I have a really, really loud voice," he laughs. "I call it my 'planetarium voice'. I don't normally talk like that but it sure can make a crowd turn their heads and pay attention in an instant."
Alex Weiss, professor and chair of the Department of Physics, saw Henry's professionalism firsthand when he attended a planetarium show for a group of area elementary school students last year.
"I was very impressed with how he was able to keep the students involved and convey the information at a level that was appropriate and in a way that made the students excited about learning science," Weiss said. "I am sure that the skills he has honed as a presenter at the UTA Planetarium and the opportunities that will be presented to him by the Hamilton Planetarium Scholarship will be of great benefit to him as he progresses in his career."
It's not surprising that Henry says he would love to continue working at the Planetarium once he graduates in May - the University has been a part of his life since he was a kid. His dad, Tim Henry, is a lecturer in biology and also serves as the assistant dean of the Honors College. Trevor's grandfather, Willem Broekhuizen, earned a master's degree in engineering from the University.
Plus, Henry was already involved as a volunteer with the University's brand-new planetarium, which opened in 2006. After graduating in 2008 from Hill School, a private college preparatory school in Fort Worth, Henry had no doubt where he wanted to go to college.
"I chose UT Arlington because my dad worked here and I grew up in
the university, so it was just all very comfortable," he said. "I remember running up and down the halls of the Life Science Building, where my dad taught classes. I became interested in science through him. I remember he was studying jumping spiders and I thought they were the coolest thing. Still today, I have such an interest for jumping spiders; I'm always on the lookout for them."
Henry tried biology and geology as majors, but the fit wasn't quite right, so he switched to interdisciplinary studies, which allows him to better encompass his broad range of interests. A year spent in the University's acclaimed UTeach Arlington program fostered his love of teaching - something he gets to do at the planetarium every day.
"Getting out in the classroom teaching and interacting with the kids was phenomenal," he said of his time in the UTeach program. "It did make me want to be a science teacher because I love seeing the spark when students understand or I teach them something really cool."
At the planetarium, Henry was hired to work part-time as a cashier while still in high school and was promoted to educator his sophomore year at UT Arlington. Last year, after undergoing extensive training in the planetarium's state-of-the-art Digistar 5 full-dome digital theater system and receiving certification, he added technician to his job duties.
The Hamilton scholarship will help greatly with costs during his senior year, he said. May 2014 will be a very eventful month for Henry - two weeks after graduation, he will marry his fiancée - whom he met at UT Arlington and who graduated with a bachelor's degree in communication last year. Then, he hopes, he'll begin full-time planetarium work, either at UT Arlington or elsewhere.
"I never thought back when I started volunteering at the Planetarium that it would end up being something I'd want to go into as a career," he said. "I had no clue what I wanted to do. It was just fun at the time for a high school student to be on a college campus."
As it turns out, working at the Planetarium and educating schoolkids and the public about space is a perfect combination of Henry's love of science and his passion for teaching.
"For some odd reason, once I grasp a concept I love to teach it and watch it grow in someone else's mind," Henry said. "What I am teaching is so different, interactive and unique that kids don't realize they are learning."
Posted September 18, 2013