The Planetarium

Robert J. Novins Planetarium - History

The Robert J. Novins Planetarium, located on the campus of Ocean County College in Toms River, NJ opened to the public on October 26, 1974 to an overwhelming response.  Designed as a service to the Ocean County community, tickets to the planetarium were originally offered free of charge.  Due to the overwhelming demand however, it was recommended that visitors get their tickets at least a week in advance of their visit.  When the Planetarium finally did begin to charge for admission in 1975, prices were a mere 50 cents for children and 75 cents for adults ($2.19 and $3.29 today.)

The $225,000 planetarium building ($986,288 in today's dollars) was part of a phase of construction on campus which included the Administration building and addition to the Gym.  Funds for the facility came from both the county and state, as well as a contribution of $53,000 from the Ocean County College Foundation in honor of late Foundation Chair and OCC Trustee, Robert J. Novins.  That would be a $232,325 contribution today.  The star projector at the heart of the theater cost $110,000 in 1974, equivalent to approximately $482,185 today.

Programming for area schools has always been a primary focus for the Novins, and shortly after opening, the Planetarium's school programs were booked solid for several months in advance - even with four classes a day.



Robert J. Novins

Toms River attorney Robert J. Novins served as an OCC Trustee from 1964 until his death in 1973, and also served as Chair of the OCC Foundation.  During his tenure and even before the College itself opened, he was the first to suggest that the College have a planetarium of its own and initiated the planetarium proposal.  In honor of his dedication to the project, the Foundation contributed $53,000 toward the project and the decision was made to name the building for him.

During a dedication ceremony for the planetarium, his son Charles Novins, was presented with a plaque recognizing the elder Novins' "vision, leadership, and support."  Charles noted, "In the all too short time I knew my father, I saw him realize one of his greatest goals in assisting the construction of this college.  There's no reason why we should not assume he's here right now with us." 

Then Student Body President, Michael Hooker said, "These facilities add to the many opportunities for continuing education here at the college.  We will be using the campus not only as students,  but hopefully as members of the community in a way that will enrich all of our tomorrows."




When the Novins first opened, use of slide projectors in a planetarium theater was new and considered controversial among some in the profession.  However, Dr. R. Erik Zimmermann, the Novins' original Planetarium Director, took the stance that these projectors helped young students better visualize the concepts that were being discussed.  He used them to create scenery and other visuals to enhance the planetarium's programs.

School programs at the new planetarium were also a unique offering.  Rather than being a single field trip, the program was designed as part of an entire curriculum program.  Programs were designed for each grade level, and schools would visit twice each year for different programs.  Between visits, teachers could continue to educate their students with curriculum guides, activities and materials created by Dr. Zimmermann.  As one newspaper reported, "One of the stated purposes of Ocean County College: to provide educational programs of excellence, designed to meet the needs of the individual and the community, is most actively pursued in this unique regional planetarium curriculum." 

Over the years and typically as a result of funding or busing problems, schools began attending the programs in a more piecemeal fashion.  Until its closure, however, the Planetarium continued to create unique programs geared to NJ State Curriculum Standards.  Today, although the theater is closed, Planetarium staff continues to provide teacher support and resources, and in-classroom programs for local schools.



Dr. R. Erik Zimmermann
Many of those visiting the planetarium during its early years were introduced to the wonders of the universe by Dr. Zimmermann. He received his PhD in astronomy from UCLA and worked both at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles and the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.  His teaching experience included positions at Michigan State University and Kean University before joining the OCC family in July 1974.

Gloria A. Villalobos, M. Astron.
Ms. Villalobos joined OCC as the 2nd Planetarium Director in November 2001.  She started her college career as a community college student at Olympic College in Bremerton, Washington, where she earned her A.S. in Physical Science.  Ms. Villalobos then moved on and earned her B.S. from Washington State University, recently finished a Masters degree in Astronomy through the University of Western Sydney (Australia) and is working on a Doctorate through James Cook University (Australia.)

Prior to joining OCC, Ms. Villalobos worked on Long Island as the Educator for the Vanderbilt Planetarium in Centerport, NY; and as the Supervisor for Earth and Space Explainers at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Ms. Villalobos has been an active member of the Middle Atlantic Planetarium Society (MAPS) since 1996.  Currently the organization's President-Elect, she will be taking over the Presidency this October.  Other professional activities include: The International Planetarium Society education committee, NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador Program, Solar System Educator Program and New Horizons Fellow (for the mission to Pluto).


Notable Quotes

"The Planetarium is certainly one of the great educational, practical functions in all of Ocean County."
       -- Ernest A. Buhr, Ocean County Freeholder (Jersey Shore News, 1975)

"Dr. Erik Zimmermann is the Director of the planetarium which is considered to be one of the finest in the U.S."
       -- Jersey Shore News, 1975

"The planetarium is basically a community rather than college facility."
       -- Barbara Schoeneweis, Staff Writer ("Planetarium More Than Meets the Eye" Asbury Park Press, 1976)



"Bringing the Heavens Closer to Earth"  Daily Observer  1 Nov 1974

"Many Students Visit Novins Planetarium"  Times Beacon Newspapers  1975

"New Buildings Dedicated at Ocean County College"  Asbury Park Press  11 Nov 1974

"Planetarium More Than Meets the Eye"  Asbury Park Press  12 Mar 1976

"Students Learn Star-Gazing"  Asbury Park Press  8 Dec 1974

"UFOs Invade Ocean"  Jersey Shore News  6 Aug 1975

"What in god's creation . . . ?? Why, it's a planetarium!"  The Reporter  30 Nov 1974

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