News & Events

Board of Education Ad Hoc Committee - Zoom Meeting with Stars To Stem, Inc.

January 26, 2021 @ 6PM


Board of Ed: :Jeffrey Newton, Eric Bauman, Leigh Gianakos, Chris Lund, Maryanna Stevens

Stars To Stem: Karen Urgitis, Linda Raffa, Mark Princevalle

Jeff Newton opened meeting with self intros of participants and reviewing of statement of purpose for meeting, as was put in tonight’s agenda - holding planetarium room for use by Stars To Stem.

Eric Bauman started discussion by saying that while he felt this was “holistically” a good idea, he was looking for a more detailed update on the progress of the organization. He said he felt a little “disconnect” in explanations and understanding surrounding the topic of the Planetarium. He wanted to know more about where Stars To Stem was in a planning timeline and the financial progress in the achievement of the goals of that timeline.

Karen Urgitis reported that grants, in kind and private donations, along with the pursuit of corporate funding would be assisting in this first phase of planning. She reported we have about another $80,000 of this part left. Due to Covid, Stars To Stem has not been able to have major fundraising events. Linda Raffa added she felt that the “grassroots” type of support Stars To Stem has been receiving from donation jars in business establishments, FaceBook page and Website donations, along with personal donors just mailing in checks was a good sign for continued future support.

Eric Bauman questioned our future timeline and programming expenses.Karen thought it would be around $ 80, 000 yearly. That would most likely be covered by grants, corporate sponsors and fees.

Mr. Bauman asked what timeline were we looking at and he was under the impression we would be charging East Lyme schools to use Planetarium once it’s up and running.

Ms. Urgitis stated that although we plan to be a regional asset, we would probably start slowly with just East Lyme schools, at no charge, and then begin programming for students throughout the region. She felt this was covered at a past meeting.

Mr. Newton asked if there were anymore questions. He stated that if all on committee agreed, he would bring up holding the Planetarium room at the February 8th meeting. After discussion of how long they would hold the room, Mr. Newton said if no objections, he would use the last letter of commitment for one year and just insert the new dates.

Mr Bauman asked that we continue with document updates, along with an updated business plan. Perhaps we could meet again in another six months to check on progression. He also suggested that we might get in touch with Dave Putnum of Parks & Rec for advice and input on how The Miracle League accomplished their goal.

Meeting was adjourned at 6:36 pm.

Linda Raffa, Secretary/Treasurer

Stars To Stem, Inc

P O Box 616 ,

Niantic, CT 06357

STARS To STEM launches official fundraising efforts - June 20, 2019

On June 19th, Wednesday evening, supporters of STARS To STEM officially launched the organization's fundraising efforts at Langley's Restaurant in Waterford, Connecticut. Guest speaker, Jack McDonald, shared his experiences as a student in East Lyme's schools and how those experiences helped to shape his interest in astronomy to pursue a career in the field. Below is the speech that he presented to the captivated audience:

Hello and welcome. I’m Jack McDonald. I graduated East Lyme High School in 2017 and I am currently going to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida for Astronomy and Astrophysics. I was actually in Mrs. Swan’s first and second grade class in Niantic Center School. She asked me to speak tonight about my experiences in the East Lyme Public School system and in college.

In Mrs. Swan’s second grade class I remember we were assigned to do a presentation on a book of our choice. Naturally, my choice was a pocket handbook to the solar system. I carried that thing everywhere and would try to memorize the facts of each planet. That was only the beginning of my affliction of outer space.

When I was in 3rd grade, the International Astronomical Union voted to demote Pluto to a dwarf planet. A children’s book was written called, “Poor Pluto” and my mom read it to my 3rd grade class. Little did I know, I would later learn the specifics of the Pluto demotion from one of my college professors who was one of the IAU members who voted Pluto a dwarf planet.

In 8th grade our science class had a month-long space unit that I was looking forward to for a year. At the end of the unit we were tasked with creating a presentation of about something space related in a group. While some of my classmates were pairing up and choosing topics such as the moon, the sun, the space program, or poor Pluto, I chose to work alone, and I tackled the topic of the universe. I focused on the evolution of the universe which is highly debated. I explained a few theories about the end of the universe in my presentation which ended up being double the average time of the other presentations. Most of the class fell asleep and the teacher gave me an A plus with the comment, “It felt like a college lecture.”

Unfortunately, when I got to the high school, they had just taken down the planetarium. I had biology class with Mr. Harfenist in the planetarium room where the reclining seats were replaced with desks and chairs. The next year I took the astronomy class with Mr. Harfenist in the same room. By then, both he and I accepted the fact that the school wasn’t planning on revamping the planetarium. It was a sad reality, but I was going to do everything I could to give back to the school system that gave me so much.

I decided to develop an hour-long astronomy program for the town’s 3rd graders as a WISE project my senior year. For those of you that do not know about this unique class at the high school, a WISE project is a capstone class where a student develops their own program of their choice. They can either get an internship, do a project around the school, or do community service. The teacher of that class, Mrs. Gianakis, is supportive no matter what you do and is one of the nicest ladies I have met. With her and Mr. Harfenists help I made an interactive, informative presentation. It included an explanation of the moon phases with a flashlight and a moon globe.

Next, I tried to explain the seasons to the 3rd graders, but it seemed that is was a little too complicated for them. Then I went into a slideshow of the solar system, starting at the sun and ending with the dwarf planet Pluto. The last 10 minutes of the program was reserved for questions. I will never forget a particular question I got. So, these presentations I did were right before the Christmas break and I gave out candy canes to the last class that came. This little girl, while eating her candy cane asked me, “Is there Santa on Jupiter?”

Naturally, I paused to try to think up a valid answer. Mr. Harfenist gave me a look saying, “be careful”.

So, I said to the girl, and the class itself, that “Santa lives on the north pole of Earth, however, every planet has a north pole, therefore, every planet can have its own Santa. But so far scientists haven’t found any evidence of life on other planets and why would Santa exist on another planet if there are no kids to bring presents to?”

Satisfied that the answer was too complicated to be understood and that it still left the imagination to tackle the question, I moved on to the next question. The next question was one that I received from each class, “Why is the ceiling a dome?”

That answer was always, “Well it used to be a planetarium, where I could’ve showed you the sky how it will be any night of any year.” I always winced a little bit giving that answer; I always hoped I could’ve given a planetarium show to them.

I later graduated high school and went to college. In college I started my astronomy classes, and one of which was on the history of astronomy. In this class the professor brought us to a planetarium in the Museum of Arts and Sciences just down the road in Daytona. The planetarium technician was actually a former student of that very same professor and they ran the show together. In the show they used the planetarium to visualize the evolution of the constellations over time and how the precession of earth has moved the north star over millions of years. Later the show brought us to exoplanets and other stars, and we got to see just how far away everything is.

If anything has ever helped me visualize my area of study, that show was it. I wish everyone could have the opportunity to sit through one of those shows and fully understand the magnitude of the sizes of space. Objects can range from the size of Manhattan to double the radius of the solar system. Outer space is one of those concepts that is hard to understand because there are no valid parallels to draw to real world experience. A planetarium allows for a parallel to be drawn, it brings together your mind and imagination to the scale and wonders of space.

I will give you guys an example: in the last semester I did a report on magnetars. Long story short, these objects are of similar mass of the sun, but have a radius of 12 kilometers. The only denser object in the universe is a black hole. These objects spin rapidly, completing a rotation every 5 seconds or so. Because of this they have strong magnetic fields that are over a million times the strength of the Sun’s field. To put this into perspective, if a magnetar was placed where the moon is, the iron would be ripped out of your blood while you are on Earth. These objects are hard to visualize, as no one has directly taken a picture of them. They are incredibly small and very far away. We can only imagine what they look like and the environment they exist in.

This is what a planetarium could do, it would allow for anything in the universe to be brought before your eyes. In the very near future, the richest of the rich will be paying for tickets to space. I don’t think I, or anyone I personally know will be able to afford a ticket. But why pay millions of dollars to sit in a tin can around earth when you could pay the price of a movie ticket to sit in a comfortable seat and watch the universe come to life before you, going from solar system to solar system, galaxy to galaxy? A planetarium show can include anything from an exploration for life in the universe to a mission to the black holes of the universe. You could think of it as East Lyme’s very own space program.

Thank you.

IRS Notification - March 5, 2019

We’re pleased to tell you we determined you are exempt from federal income tax under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 501(c)(3). Donors can deduct contributions they make to you under IRC Section 170 (Public Charity Status). You are also qualified to receive tax deductible bequests, devices, transfers, or gifts under Section 2055, 2106, or 2522.

Effective Date of Exemption: May 4, 2018 (the date we were officially incorporated in the State of Connecticut).

Our application was approved without any need for additional documentation or corrections. STARS To STEM, Inc. is very thankful for the professional advice received from many dedicated community members. While it seemed like a long process to get to where we are today, our team confidently surmounted each hurdle which strengthened our determination to upgrade the East Lyme Planetarium.

We are setting up a PayPal account to facilitate online donations via our web site. Donations via check can be sent to:

STARS To STEM, Inc.PO Box 616Niantic, CT 06357

We will aggressively seek grant awards to assist with fundraising and will continue to establish partnerships with regional organizations. A series of upcoming events is planned and exciting news about expert connections is forthcoming. Stay tuned!

Karen Urgitis, Vice President

STARS to STEM, Inc. moves forward with SCORE

September 11, 2018

The Board of Directors and members of the Advisory Committee convened a special meeting that was facilitated by Mr. Bob Potter, a volunteer from the local chapter of SCORE. SCORE provides free, ongoing mentoring, and shares real-world advice and know-how*. Bob’s extensive professional experiences include: marketing, communications, new product development with major media companies, and working with a variety of nonprofits.

The focus of our session was to discuss Best Practices that ensure success for newly-formed nonprofits. While our group gained a lot of new and useful information, we also were able to ask very pertinent questions that were directly related to our corporation’s vision, mission, and goal. The importance of success metrics, measurement tools, setting priorities per quarter, and sustainability were among the topics discussed.

STARS to STEM, Inc. looks forward to an ongoing relationship with Bob through SCORE. We are very grateful to have SCORE work with us toward success in all our endeavors.

Please be sure to visit SCORE at *

Karen Urgitis, Vice President, STARS to STEM, Inc.

Community members visit East Lyme planetarium space

Published in the New London Day, August 07. 2018 10:23PM | Updated August 08. 2018 4:23PM

By Kimberly Drelich Day staff writer KimberlyDrelich


East Lyme — When town resident Kathy Lynch stepped into the planetarium at East Lyme High School, she remembered her own high school years when her teacher pointed out all the constellations projected onto the dome.

"Going to the room brought back memories of Mr. [Donald] Bloom and the knowledge I received from him," said Lynch, who is the secretary of a group aiming to restart the planetarium at the high school.

She brought along her two nephews to a tour of the facility on Tuesday evening so that they, too, could experience what she did. About 20 people joined members of the Planetarium Imaginarium Committee, now STARS to STEM Inc., in the space, which has a 24-foot dome, that they hope to bring back into a full planetarium.

With it still being light outdoors during the early evening tour, her nephew, Brian, 13, peered through the lens of a telescope stationed outside the planetarium to see a close-up of a leaf moving on a far-away tree.

Board President Diane Swan said she organized the tour so people who didn't realize East Lyme had a planetarium — which was installed at the high school in the 1970s — or who haven't seen it before, could see the space.

In 2013, the school district converted the planetarium into an astronomy and science classroom, in which students could still use technology to project onto the dome, high school Principal Michael Susi has said. The decision came as fewer students took astronomy classes and an out-of-date projector became costly to maintain.

The planetarium group formed in the summer of 2017 after Swan learned that the school district was planning to turn the space into a special education classroom. She proposed upgrading the planetarium room into both an educational space and one for the community at large, with no town taxpayer money. The Board of Education recently agreed at its June meeting to continue to hold the planetarium space until June 30, 2019, to allow the group to keep working on its proposal.

Kyra Seurattan, who is studying to be a technology education teacher after a career in planetarium work and is volunteering with the planetarium effort, and her stepfather, Glenn PenkoffLidbeck, an East Lyme Middle School teacher, showed tour-goers a telescope from the 1970s that recently was donated to the East Lyme Public Library, which then donated it to the group. Seurattan said that while new telescopes have a GPS system, the older versions allow people to use their knowledge to manually set up and align the telescope, which is more of a learning experience.

"Not having a GPS in a place like this is probably better," she said.

Under the right conditions, people can use the telescope to glimpse in the sky such features as Saturn's rings, Jupiter's cloud patterns and four largest moons, and the Andromeda galaxy, she said.

In response to an attendee's question, she said that, with the right equipment, it would be possible to project from the telescope onto the dome.

Karen Urgitis, the group's vice president and treasurer, said the group plans to incorporate many different disciplines into the planetarium and tap into multiple senses, such as by having scents or fans blowing. They would have programs on the ocean, space, the human body and even drill down to the level of an atom, and take people on "trips" to places they might not otherwise get a chance to visit.

Under a business model given to the school board in March, the group says funding sources would include fees from schools, membership fees, sponsorships and donations. Swan said the group plans to next meet with the Board of Education's Planetarium Ad-hoc Committee in the fall to provide an update.

Information sessions on the initiative are planned for October at the East Lyme Public Library and will be listed in the library's newsletter, Swan said. The session will give an overview of the planetarium and STARS to STEM Inc. and also will include star parties in which people can look through the donated telescope and learn about apps for stargazing.

More information is available by visiting the Planetarium Imaginarium's Facebook page,