News Archive

Varia family makes $15,101 contribution to East Kentucky Science Center and Varia Planetarium

Published on Apr 7, 2017

The Varia family presented a $15,101 gift to the East Kentucky Science Center and Varia Planetarium on Tuesday, March 28 on the Prestonsburg campus of Big Sandy Community and Technical College.  Shown are: (front) Varia family members Sheel Slone, Laila Rani Slone Varia and Rick Slone.  (Back) East Kentucky Science Center staff members Pauletta Burke, Steve Russo and Susan Scott.

Big Sandy Community and Technical College (BSCTC) met its youngest donor in school history. 

Eight-month-old Laila Rani Slone Varia joined her loving family on Tuesday, March 26 to make a $15,101 donation to the East Kentucky Science Center and Varia Planetarium. 

Laila is the great granddaughter of the late Dr. Mahendra Varia, who the planetarium is named in honor of, and Dr. Chandra Varia.  Dr. Mahendra Varia served as a member of the board of the Big Sandy College Educational Foundation, Inc. and was a member of the Martin City Council from 1998 until his passing in 2014. 

“Mahendra is still the heart of our family,” said Sheel Mehta Slone, Laila’s mother and the granddaughter of Dr. Mahendra Varia. “We will send Laila to the planetarium in hopes that it will inspire her to shoot for the stars.  This gift will make the Science Center more accessible than ever.” 

The gift will ensure that every Floyd County elementary school and middle school student can visit the East Kentucky Science Center and Varia Planetarium once this academic year.  It will also afford the same benefits to the David School and the Carl D. Perkins Job Corps Center. 

Anand Doshi, the nephew of Dr. Mahendra Varia and Dr. Chandra Varia, spoke of the importance of education. 

“We are a part of a generation that needs answers,” said Doshi. “Colleges and education offer those answers.  Maybe students that visit the planetarium will be inspired to study space and astronomy.” 

Jean Rosenberg, who along with her husband, John, formed the East Kentucky Science Center and Varia Planetarium, told the crowd that “family teaches one another to share.” 

Dr. Henry Webb, superintendent of Floyd County Schools, described Dr. Chandra Varia as “a person with an amazing heart.” 

Dr. Chandra Varia spoke of the fascination her husband had with the sky. 

“When I look at the stars at the planetarium I think about the song Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” she said. “I want the children to see the diamonds [stars] in the sky.” 

Steve Russo, director of the East Kentucky Science Center and Varia Planetarium, told the audience about his first experience at a planetarium as a five-year-old. 

“That’s the moment I decided this is what I wanted to do,” said Russo, who has worked in planetariums for 43 years. “If we can inspire one child to dream, our work is well worth it.” 

For more information on giving opportunities at BSCTC, contact Mike McCoy, director of advancement, at (606) 889-4739 or email