The stars aligned when Shannon Schmoll was recently elected in the succession to become the next president of the International Planetarium Society.
Schmoll, director of Michigan State University’s Abrams Planetarium and an instructor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the College of Natural Science, has been a leader in the planetarium community for many years. She will serve a six-year term beginning this year — two years each as president-elect, president and past president.
IPS provides the global community of planetariums “professional development, science literacy and arts/humanities awareness, innovative ideas, and partnerships in order to enhance the world’s appreciation and understanding of our universe.”
“It is great to see our director of the Abrams Planetarium, Dr. Shannon Schmoll, elected President of the International Planetarium Society,” said Stephen Zepf, professor and Department of Physics and Astronomy chair. “Dr. Schmoll has been an outstanding leader of our planetarium on campus ever since arriving here ten years ago. The Abrams Planetarium is a key part of outreach and education in our department and at MSU. More than 10,000 students from across the state visit it each year, it is engaged in outreach across the local community, and it hosts many events as well as being used for courses on campus. Abrams has thrived in these roles under Dr. Schmoll’s leadership, and her election as President of the IPS is a sign of the recognition in how well she has done as its director.”
The Talbert and Leota Abrams Planetarium, located on the MSU campus, serves as an astronomy and space science education resource center for central Michigan. The planetarium is an outreach unit of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, supporting astronomy teaching on campus and offering a variety of planetarium shows to the public — preschool through senior citizens.
While Schmoll has been expanding Abrams Planetarium offerings and partnerships, she has also been an integral part of the international community of planetariums. She joined IPS in graduate school and subsequently served on their equity, diversity, and inclusion committee and their education committee for many years. As she moves into the presidency, her impact will increase.
“It’s an interesting challenge and a chance to build new skills in collaboration and leadership,” Schmoll said. “This is an opportunity where I can grow, learn from others, and take those skills with me back to Abrams and other organizations.”
IPS fosters collaboration among the world’s planetariums, promoting progress and innovation. It was established in 1970 at the Conference of American Planetarium Educators hosted by MSU. Although it began as an American organization, it now has members in 50 countries on every continent except Antarctica.
“For the most part, we share the same sky and see the same stars, but the way we interpret those stars, the way we tell stories, the way people used them for timekeeping and navigation — those are differences,” Schmoll said. “We have this thing that connects us all, but it also helps us understand each other in a more fundamental way.”
Planetarium professionals, teachers, technicians, digital artists, scientists, and others interested in planetariums are welcome to join IPS. Members gain access to resources, such as IPS’s official journal The Planetarian, attend global conferences, and become part of a connected worldwide community. IPS’s 2024 conference will be held in Berlin and the following one, which Schmoll will oversee as president, is slated for 2026 in Fukuoka, Japan.
As president, Schmoll is prepared to set the groundwork for some bigger changes.
“During my tenure, I want to deepen the professionalization of the field, which includes ensuring that planetarians are well respected and paid fairly and that their roles are understood by their superiors,” she said. “I would also like to see IPS membership grow by building up the ‘international’ part of its membership and bringing in more people from all over the world, and by branching out to adjacent fields such as voice actors, composers, and gift shop professionals.”
In addition, Schmoll, wants to further support education research within planetariums. In the 1970s, MSU offered a master’s program in Planetarium Sciences at Abrams. She wants to look at the possibility of bringing back a master’s program or offering an additional certificate as part of a museum studies program.
“It’s a great honor to serve my fellow planetarians and to know that people who I admire and respect voted me into this position,” Schmoll said. “IPS will soon be celebrating the centennial of the projection planetarium. I want to make sure that what I leave behind is something that will continue to help not only current members, but everyone that comes after them for the next centennial.”