Team STARS

BOARD OF DIRECTORS and OFFICERS

Diane Swan

Director/President

Diane Swan earned her BS in Early Childhood Education and MS from Southern Connecticut State University. She is employed by East Lyme Public Schools, 1996-present, as an early childhood educator.

Prior to that she worked as an educator in Kissimmee, Florida. In addition to her teaching responsibilities Diane serves as the building's science coordinator. In this capacity, she worked closely with town engineer and together they secured a grant for the Outdoor Stormwater Classroom. Since its conception, the outdoor educational experience has educated over 1000 third grade students from East Lyme and Salem about storm water runoff.

Diane has taught a science summer camp, “Camp Phenomena,” for the past two years. Additionally, she has worked for LEARN conducting a week-long science camp that serviced regional students. Diane has run several "Simple Science” after school activities for the Niantic Center School PTA.

She is committed to volunteering and has served as the chairperson for assemblies, fundraising and beautification for the PTA. Currently, she is a member of the Miracle League of South Eastern Connecticut fundraising committee.

Karen Urgitis

Advisor/Interim Director and President

Karen Urgitis, MS Ed Tech, retired from a lifelong career in the fields of technology, education and grant writing. She was employed by the East Lyme School District from 1992 - 1997 as the Computer Specialist at Lillie B. Haynes School. She spent 13 years at LEARN in Old Lyme writing and coordinating grants and served as the organization’s educational technology lead for her department. Karen joined the Norwich School District in 2009 as Coordinator of Instructional Technology and Learning Resources, overseeing many department upgrades, writing numerous grants, and instructing staff and students in the integration of various technologies into teaching and learning. She was instrumental in the upgrade and restoration of a school-based planetarium. Karen comes to this organization with a passion and drive for learning with technology for young and old.

Linda Raffa

Director/Secretary/Treasurer

Linda Raffa is an East Lyme resident retired from a long career in education and business. Her experiences include Kindergarten teacher and Director/Head Teacher of two preschools.

As well as serving in the fulfilling capacity as educator, Linda also helped manage several businesses, primarily as bookkeeper. Her volunteer work includes roles as secretary, treasurer, and president of parent/teacher organizations and various organizations.

Her most recent employment was at the Children’s Museum of Southeastern Connecticut where she was Director of Operations.

As former educator and devoted grandparent, Linda enjoys spending time with young children and looks forward to expanding this interest with STARS To STEM's planetarium project.

Leslie Brown

Director/Education and Programming Officer

Leslie Brown currently serves as Associate Professor of Physics at Connecticut College, having joined the college's staff in 1992. Leslie completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Delaware and earned her M.A. and Ph.D. from Brandeis University.

While on staff at Connecticut College, Leslie has shared her wealth of knowledge at national speaking engagements. Topics included: "The Past, the Present and the Future of Undergraduate Research in Astronomy at Connecticut College," presented at the American Astronomical Society's January 2004 meeting, and also the AAS's special session on "Instrumentation for Small Observatories in 2006.

Dr. Brown has been a recipient of numerous grant awards and is adept at operating various telescopes and related technologies. She has extensive experience in the fields of astrophysics and astronomy and brings her love of education to our team.

https://www.conncoll.edu/directories/faculty-profiles/leslie-brown/

Amy Cabaniss

Director

Amy Cabaniss has an established career in environmental education (EE) that includes classroom and field teaching experience (pre-K through graduate school students), curriculum development, teacher training and camp leadership, among other aspects of EE. Her expertise includes environmental communications, conservation psychology and business sustainability, with applied research in behavior change and community-based social marketing.

Amy serves as faculty at UConn in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment where she coordinates the Conservation Ambassador Program. She concurrently teaches Conservation Biology at Eastern Connecticut State University. Amy has a BS in Environmental Conservation, MBA in Management & Organization and a PhD in Environmental Studies. In addition to Stars to Stem, she is a board member of the Social Marketing Association of North America (SMANA) and a member of COEEA, the Connecticut Outdoor and Environmental Education Association.

OFFICERS and ADVISORS

Kyra Elliot Seurattan

Planetarium Technology Specialist

Kyra Elliott Seurattan earned her BA in Astronomy and Physics from Vassar College, and recently completed her Teaching Certification in Technology Education. She is the Technology and Engineering teacher at Nathan Hale-Ray High School in East Haddam.

Kyra has been a planetarian for over 16 years. She worked for four years as the Assistant Planetarium Director at the Travelers Sciencedome Planetarium at The Children’s Museum in West Hartford and developed programming for camps, classes, and homeschool students. She also presented shows, created animations and graphics for use in the dome, as well as explored possible technology upgrades for the theater.

In order to further focus on animation, graphics, and show production, Kyra accepted the position of Producer & Animator at the Irene W. Pennington Planetarium at Louisiana Art and Science Museum in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As a Technology and Engineering teacher, Kyra is dedicated to sharing her passion with students and their families. She believes the planetarium is a unique environment where students can learn and practice a variety of 21st century skills. The sky is the limit!

Susan Lynch

Parent Liaison

Susan Lynch comes to this organization with 15 years experience as a senior tax analyst working for H &R Block. Her particular area of expertise is in real estate and investment procedures. She attended Three Rivers State College earning an associate of science degree. She spent many years as an accountant in retail at a local hardware store. Susan is active in her children’s sports activities and supports their academic pursuits.

Gillian McMahon

Collegiate STEM Liaison

Gillian is currently a senior enrolled at East Lyme High School.

As a very active member of both her school and the local community, Gillian is involved in a variety of activities. In September 2018 she founded the Women in STEM club at ELHS to bring together girls with diverse interests within the field. In the club's first year, the group participated in volunteer events, job shadowed at Pfizer, and held career-orientated events for young women in coordination with other school clubs. Gillian is also the president of the Student Advisory Board, a club which volunteers at East Lyme town events such as the Holiday Stroll, the Niantic Light Parade, Countdown to Noon, and the Niantic Bay Boardwalk 5k among others. She is also a volunteer at the Gemma E. Moran United Way Food Bank in New London in her free time. Gillian is a small forward on the East Lyme Vikings varsity basketball team. Gillian is also a National Honor Society member.

Gillian is very passionate about closing the gender gap, especially in STEM-related fields and is excited to be a part of an all-female Stars to STEM group.


Sachi Vora

High School STEM Liaison

Sachi is currently a very active junior enrolled at East Lyme High School. She spends her time on the E.L. Varsity Girls Soccer Team, as well as captain of the E.L. Varsity Girls Basketball Team. In the school, Sachi is involved with many clubs including Student Senate, PRO (Peers Reaching Out), Rotary Club, and Spanish National Honors Society. She is the Junior Class Board of Education Representative. Through all these clubs and activities she volunteers to better the community and learn from others.


Sachi has always been very interested in the sciences and helping others, including this great cause.

Victoria Thomson

Teacher STEM Liaison

Victoria is a resident of East Lyme and has been teaching at East Lyme High School since August 2017. She is the proud mother of two children, ages 6 and 3. Prior to teaching at ELHS, Victoria taught at New London High School for 3 years.

Although relatively new to the field of astronomy, Victoria's formal education encompasses several areas in science. She earned a B.S. from Cornell University and M.S. from the University of Arizona, with a focus in entomology. As a lifelong learner, her latest pursuit is in astronomy, a journey that included traveling to the Canary Islands this past summer (2019) to study astronomy for educators. She is passionate about learning and fascinated by the vastness of the universe. Knowledge only has power when evidence and information is transferred to other people, particularly to our youth. As a result, Victoria is committed to seeing STARS to STEM reach its fullest potential.