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Seeing stars
Hickory Creek enjoy visit from portable planetarium
Hickory Creek fifth-grade students enjoyed the inflatable planetarium manned by professor Billy Hix. Students and teachers are, first row from left, Aiden Cano, Campbell Kell, Logan Earls and Mark Bouldin. Second row, Tiler King, Lucy George, Andrew Miller, Hunter El-Hage, Jenny Owen, Bailey Brock, Kyndal Hitchcock, JJ Jacobs, Sawyer Seymour and Samantha McCormick. Back row, principal Mike Mansfield, Arianna Meltzer, Savannah Foster, Nancy Wallace, Hix, Isiah Martin, Matthew Key, Brandy Sandoval, Vanessa Diaz and Jackie Smith.

As a professor and director of STEM Outreach at Motlow College, Billy Hix has the opportunity to reach students of all ages.
Recently he visited Warren County and spent quality time with fifth-grade students at Hickory Creek Elementary sharing his vast knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math.
During his visit, he brought his portable planetarium, which has been added to the Motlow program about four years ago. It is the most consistent and longest running STEM outreach program of any state college or university in Tennessee, starting in 1986.
Hix has worked as an astronomer for NASA, but his love of space began when he was in elementary school.
“When I was in the fifth grade, we were about to land on the moon, and I was nuts about learning about space, stars and the space program,” said Hix.
It’s obvious to him the excitement from students when they visit the planetarium, and they always bombard him with questions. Teacher Nancy Wallace and instructional coordinator Jackie Smith, shared the experience with students, and were pleased with the informative program.
“This visit allowed the students a glimpse of the universe,” said Smith. “The presentation was very in depth, but we only scratched the surface of what we need to do.”
According to Hix, the students were so excited and full of questions, he walked them back to the classroom.
“It has been a long time since I had to walk a class down the hallway to get them back to their classroom,” said Hix. “Now, that is something you seldom see.”
The portable planetarium is a 24-foot igloo shaped inflatable structure equipped to display the program on the inside of the dome through a computer projector. The students feel like they are moving with the solar system and the universe. They view the constellations, visit the Andromeda galaxy, visit stars, and sometimes see what the sun is going to look like after it dies by traveling to the Ring Nebula.
“The students go wild as we travel – it looks like a scene from Star Wars as they go into warp drive,” said Hix.
According to principal Mike Mansfield, “It was a great experience for the children, they received a real-life tour of the planets and constellations.” 
Hix is a motivational speaker, and award-winning teacher, and a tireless worker promoting STEM education in public schools.
“I have been doing this outreach to school for years, and this year along, I have worked with over 11,000 students and teachers,” said Hix. “And it doesn’t cost the school one penny.”
His objective is to inspire teachers, students and their parents to become more science literate through the use of STEM activities and to be able to recruit and train the next generation of teachers to inspire them to understand the vital role of STEM in the future of our nation.