Former Orange Coast College Professor Donates $1 Million for the School’s Planetarium

OCC Planetarium

Orange Coast College is one of the nation’s most successful transfer schools, boasting such highly regarded alumni as renowned character actor Patrick Warburton and Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland. The school attracts more than 20,000 students each term because it offers perks not found in your typical community college. One of the most exciting of these perks is the new OCC Planetarium, which just received a major boost thanks to a generous donation from a former professor.


Retired professor Mary McChesney, who taught English and Spanish at OCC until retiring in 1983, recently donated $1 million to the planetarium in honor of her late partner, Adelyn Bonin, who passed away earlier this year. Bonin was herself a professor at OCC until 1983, and both McChesney and Bonin have maintained a tremendous fondness for the college. The money will be used to fund a Foucault pendulum, a device that demonstrates the rotation of the Earth. Originally introduced by Léon Foucault in 1851, Foucault pendulums have become a popular feature of major universities with a prominent astronomy department.


OCC has been known for its planetarium since the 1950s, but the old building was recently demolished to make room for an updated planetarium that’s more in line with modern technology and better suited to meet the current needs of the public. For instance, the old planetarium seated about 35 people; the new planetarium will be able to seat 129 people. It will also feature a large exhibit hall with a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Science on a Sphere display globe.


The new planetarium will serve not only students of the college but also K-12 students and members of the local community who are interested in observing educational presentations on the solar system. The total budget for the new planetarium is about $20 million, much of which has been raised thanks to the success of a local bond measure. This measure, known as Measure M, was passed by voters in 2012, and it allocates $17 million to the construction of the new planetarium. That leaves a gap of $3 million needed to fulfill the total budgetary requirements of the planetarium.


McChesney’s donation is helping to fill in this gap and bring faculty members closer to their goal of fulfilling the requirements of their budget. In total, the new planetarium has received more than $2.6 million in donations from former students and members of the community, putting the college right within reach of fulfilling its $20 million goal and ensuring that the planetarium is able to recognize its full potential.


In addition to the Foucault pendulum, the planetarium will feature a state-of-the-art theater, advanced telescopes for real-time space observation, an interactive science exhibit hall, and other features which seek to both educate and engage. College officials hope to have the new planetarium in operation in time for the Fall 2018 semester.


The new planetarium has a larger purpose than many people realize. The faculty at OCC recognizes that the U.S. has fallen significantly behind in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) standards, and that’s why the school is committed to creating a learning environment that encourages a renewed excitement for these subjects, not only among OCC students but among the community at large. OCC has long been recognized as Orange County’s leader in science education, and the new planetarium reaffirms the school’s commitment to this critical discipline.


The school is internationally recognized as an academic leader in scientific advancement. For instance, in 2002, a 38-acre island west of Vancouver was donated to the school for scientific research. Rabbit Island is now used as a field station at which summer classes are taught. Students are interactively educated on a wide range of disciplines including island ecology, vertebrate biology, and biological diversity. OCC believes that science education doesn’t happen simply in textbooks or in lectures. It requires hands-on learning, and that’s why the new planetarium is so important to meeting the college’s goals.


Mary McChesney’s donation may seem like just another generous gesture, but it’s helping to ensure that the next generation of students and enthusiasts is just a little bit closer to understanding the vast mysteries of the universe.

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