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UTA Planetarium receives $10K donation from Central Market for virtual field trip program

The UTA Planetarium
The UTA Planetarium

The UTA Planetarium’s virtual field trip program has received a major boost through the generosity of a corporate sponsor.

Central Market on January 6 announced a $10,000 grant through its Community Investment initiative in support of the program, which was launched during the fall when the COVID-19 pandemic made in-person Planetarium shows for groups of students from area K-12 schools impossible.

Typically, the UTA Planetarium hosts field trips throughout the school year, with nearly 150 kids packing the Planetarium for each show. Now the facility is offering virtual field trips for groups as small as 20 to as large as 160 or more via live video conference-style presentations on platforms likes Zoom.

The lessons are designed to be great supplements for online students who are learning at home, as well as for face-to-face classroom teachers looking for an interactive virtual field trip experience for their students.

“We are very grateful to Central Market for this generous donation to the Planetarium’s virtual field trip program,” said Levent Gurdemir, Planetarium director. “Central Market’s support demonstrates that there is wide recognition of the Planetarium’s community education mission and its importance in teaching young students about astronomy.”

The online field trips take audience members on a virtual trip through space for unparalleled views of the night sky, the solar system, stars and distant galaxies. The Planetarium is providing the virtual field trip programs at no cost to schools, which is what makes the need for corporate sponsorship so important, Gurdemir said.

“We remain committed to bringing the community high-quality educational content,” he said. “We want to support teachers and students and make sure the educational material we deliver is impactful, informative and engaging.”  

Staff constructed a mini studio within the Planetarium by building a green screen and bringing in multiple cameras and microphones. The same software in the Planetarium is still used, but now the content is projected onto the green screen background.

“Central Market is delighted to contribute to this excellent program offered by the UTA Planetarium, which will enable students from around North Texas to enjoy a field trip experience they would otherwise have missed out on due to the pandemic,” said Mabrie Jackson, director of public affairs for H-E-B/Central Market. “This is a valuable educational resource that will expand young minds across DFW.”

The program isn’t limited to North Texas, either. Last week the Planetarium presented a virtual field trip to a group of 60 elementary school kids in San Luis Obispo, California. The Planetarium plans to offer the virtual field trips for as long as the pandemic lasts and possibly beyond, Gurdemir said.

“This grant from Central Market will play a critical role in allowing the Planetarium to continue to provide an outstanding educational resource to K-12 students throughout the Metroplex and the state of Texas through the virtual field trip program,” said Alex Weiss, professor and chair of the UTA Department of Physics.

The UTA Planetarium, which opened in 2006, is one of the largest in the state of Texas. It features a 60-foot dome projection surface, fully digital projection system and advanced software.

To book a virtual field trip, visit https://www.uta.edu/planetarium/fieldtrips. Corporations interested in donating to the program can contact the Planetarium office at 817-272-1183, or by email at planetarium@uta.edu.