Retiree Profile: Sharon Shanks

As some of our most beloved faculty and staff retire this summer, YSU STEM wants to take the time to acknowledge those who have been exceptional. This summer, we will highlight two of our faculty as they continue on to the next chapter of their lives.

Anybody who has been in the Ward Beecher Planetarium knows of Sharon Shanks. Since 1990 — five years after she began her career at YSU — Sharon made the move to the Physics and Astronomy department, where she’s made her mark on the YSU community.

“I started at YSU on Feb. 25, 1985. My son was about 18 months old at the time, which provides the primary reason for my taking a job as Typist II in the Bursar’s Office. It was then one of the most basic entry-level positions at YSU, and I started it making exactly one cent an hour more than the position I left — which was an editor at a daily newspaper in Columbiana County,” Sharon said. “I needed a job with more regular hours, and my typing skills were great, thanks to my YSU undergraduate degree in English and years as a journalist. And I was hoping that once I was at YSU, I would be in a better position if a job in the News Bureau opened.”

Luckily for us, the News Bureau didn’t work out, and Sharon moved to another secretary position, worked on her master’s degree, and went into labor with her daughter while she was on the clock.

“She’s a true YSU kid,” Sharon said.

From there, she made her transfer to Physics and Astronomy in 1990, when her daughter was two years old.

“I was psyched when the job came open because it was a science department and it was astronomy,” Sharon said. “What could be better for a closet science nerd and Star Trek [and] Star Wars fan?”

Sharon began volunteering at the planetarium developing programs for pre-school and lower-elementary level children, where she discovered a natural affinity for teaching and giving public presentations. This, along with encouragement from her peers, led her to apply for the open planetarium lecturer position in 1997, where she’s been ever since and what she describes as her favorite position.

“I get to make kids happy, because the planetarium is the most ‘wow’ place on campus. I get hugs from little kids, a perk of the job not on the job description. And I get to teach and share knowledge without giving grades or writing lesson plans. What could be better than that?” she said.

She makes kids of all ages smile, which wouldn’t have been possible if Sharon hadn’t opened the dome up to all ages.

“I’ve seen some kids grow up at the planetarium, still coming and still enthusiastic even into high school,” Sharon said.

Not only has she been the face of the Ward Beecher Planetarium, she’s helped produce almost all of the programs shown in the dome alongside Rick Pirko, including The Grand Tour, Of Stars and Dinosaurs, Strange New Worlds, and Centuries for the general audience. She also wrote the children’s shows Wilbear’s Adventure, George and Oatmeal Save Santa, and Comet the Cat and The Rocks from Space.

Without a doubt, Sharon has been a huge part in the success of the Ward Beecher Planetarium, and YSU STEM is sad to see her go. Not only has she contributed with the programs, but she has received several honors for her work and secured grants for the department.

“The planetarium is a gateway. It gets kids interested in science, in careers in science, in learning more, and, hopefully, in coming to YSU as students,” Sharon said. “It’s one of the few places in the area where adults can continue their informal education at no charge and on their terms. We fill a need, regardless of age or socio-economic status, and I’m proud to do that.”