Marcos at the Montshire

Executive Director Marcos Stafne shares his thoughts, talks, and experiences about the Museum. You can also follow Marcos on Twitter @MarcosStafne.

20 Science Questions that will make you think

As this year's political season goes in to full swing a number of science organizations have come together to develop a list of 20 Science Questions for presidential candidates via sciencedebate.org. Science and politics are incredibly intertwined because science issues affect our lives and future as much as economic, social, or foreign policies. While the Montshire does not take a political stance, we offer a safe place to learn and ask questions about using science. The 20 Questions caused me to think about how informed I was about these issues and to ask my own questions: 

  • Are these issues that come up with my friends and family around the dinner table?
  • Do I discuss these issues with colleagues? 
  • Do my choices for local, state, and presidential representation feel the same way I do about these issues? 

Asking a question is the first step on the path to discovery, and coming to terms with what you know and don't know helps you to organize a roadmap to greater understanding. I encourage you to read through these questions. What other questions relating to science need to be asked? How are these questions important to you? How do you prioritize these issues? Do you know how your elected officials or candidates would answer these questions?

2016's Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions

  1. Innovation: Science and engineering have been responsible for over half of the growth of the U.S. economy since WWII. But some reports question America's continued leadership in these areas. What policies will best ensure that America remains at the forefront of innovation?
  2. Research: Many scientific advances require long-term investment to fund research over a period of longer than the two, four, or six year terms that govern political cycles. In the current climate of budgetary constraints, what are your science and engineering research priorities and how will you balance short-term versus long-term funding?
  3. Climate Change: The Earth's climate is changing and political discussion has become divided over both the science and the best response. What are your views on climate change, and how would your administration act on those views?
  4. Biodiversity: Biological diversity provides food, fiber, medicines, clean water and many other products and services on which we depend every day. Scientists are finding that the variety and variability of life is diminishing at an alarming rate as a result of human activity. What steps will you take to protect biological diversity?
  5. The Internet: The Internet has become a foundation of economic, social, law enforcement, and military activity. What steps will you take to protect vulnerable infrastructure and institutions from cyber attack, and to provide for national security while protecting personal privacy on electronic devices and the Internet?Discussing 20 Science Questions
  6. Mental Health: Mental illness is among the most painful and stigmatized diseases, and the National Institute of Mental Health estimates it costs America more than $300 billion per year. What will you do to reduce the human and economic costs of mental illness?
  7. Energy: Strategic management of the U.S. energy portfolio can have powerful economic, environmental, and foreign policy impacts. How do you see the energy landscape evolving over the next 4 to 8 years, and, as president, what will your energy strategy be?
  8. Education: American students have fallen in many international rankings of science and math performance, and the public in general is being faced with an expanding array of major policy challenges that are heavily influenced by complex science. How would your administration work to ensure all students including women and minorities are prepared to address 21st century challenges and, further, that the public has an adequate level of STEM literacy in an age dominated by complex science and technology?
  9. Public Health: Public health efforts like smoking cessation, drunk driving laws, vaccination, and water fluoridation have improved health and productivity and save millions of lives. How would you improve federal research and our public health system to better protect Americans from emerging diseases and other public health threats, such as antibiotic resistant superbugs?
  10. Water: The long-term security of fresh water supplies is threatened by a dizzying array of aging infrastructure, aquifer depletion, pollution, and climate variability. Some American communities have lost access to water, affecting their viability and destroying home values. If you are elected, what steps will you take to ensure access to clean water for all Americans?
  11. Nuclear Power: Nuclear power can meet electricity demand without producing greenhouse gases, but it raises national security and environmental concerns. What is your plan for the use, expansion, or phasing out of nuclear power, and what steps will you take to monitor, manage and secure nuclear materials over their life cycle.
  12. Food: Agriculture involves a complex balance of land and energy use, worker health and safety, water use and quality, and access to healthy and affordable food, all of which have inputs of objective knowledge from science. How would you manage the U.S. agricultural enterprise to our highest benefit in the most sustainable way?
  13. Global Challenges: We now live in a global economy with a large and growing human population. These factors create economic, public health, and environmental challenges that do not respect national borders. How would your administration balance national interests with global cooperation when tackling threats made clear by science, such as pandemic diseases and climate change, that cross national borders?
  14. Regulations: Science is essential to many of the laws and policies that keep Americans safe and secure. How would science inform your administration's decisions to add, modify, or remove federal regulations, and how would you encourage a thriving business sector while protecting Americans vulnerable to public health and environmental threats?
  15. Vaccinations: Public health officials warn that we need to take more steps to prevent international epidemics from viruses such as Ebola and Zika. Meanwhile, measles is resurgent due to decreasing vaccination rates. How will your administration support vaccine science?
  16. Space: There is a political debate over America's national approach to space exploration and use. What should America's national goals be for space exploration and Earth observation from space, and what steps would your administration take to achieve them?
  17. Opioids: There is a growing opioid problem in the United States, with tragic costs to lives, families and society. How would your administration enlist researchers, medical doctors and pharmaceutical companies in addressing this issue?
  18. Ocean Health: There is growing concern over the decline of fisheries and the overall health of the ocean: Scientists estimate that 90 percent of stocks are fished at or beyond sustainable limits, habitats like coral reefs are threatened by ocean acidification, and large areas of ocean and coastlines are polluted. What efforts would your administration make to improve the health of our ocean and coastlines and increase the long-term sustainability of ocean fisheries?
  19. Immigration: There is much current political discussion about immigration policy and border controls. Would you support any changes in immigration policy regarding scientists and engineers who receive their graduate degree at an American university? Conversely, what is your opinion of recent controversy over employment and the H1-B Visa program?
  20. Scientific Integrity: Evidence from science is the surest basis for fair and just public policy, but that is predicated on the integrity of that evidence and of the scientific process used to produce it, which must be both transparent and free from political bias and pressure. How will you foster a culture of scientific transparency and accountability in government, while protecting scientists and federal agencies from political interference in their work?

As I read through these I was surprised at how my priority concerns have shifted over time. I’m planning to discuss these questions with my friends, family, and colleagues to see how they feel about these issues, and I’m curious about what questions are most relevant to you? Feel free to reach out to me on twitter at @marcosstafne or email me at marcos.stafne@montshire.org.

For more information about the 20 Science Questions:

NPR: 20 Science Questions for Presidential Candidates
Science Debate: 2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions
Science Magazine: U.S. science groups have 20 questions for candidates
20 Science Question (PDF)

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What does a science museum director do while on vacation?…go to museums of course!

The Montshire is a hot spot for families from all over the country to visit during their summer vacation. It’s fun walking through the parking lot and seeing license plates from all over U.S.A.—and knowing that we’re part of someone’s exciting summer adventure. 

In July, I decided to set off on an excursion to California and visit as many cultural institutions as possible. 

9 days, 5 cities, 27 museums, zoos, aquariums, historical sites and theme parks.

Along the way I learned about whales, cannibals, streetcars, space shuttles, tentacles, racecars, saw about 2000 works of art, and sat in an enchanted Tiki room. Yes, I probably did a little too much sight seeing—but there was so much more to see and do—and it was a great way to feed my ravenous curiosity.  

While seeing four to five cultural attractions a day can seem a little overwhelming, one way I keep track of my days is to play a simple game called, “Three Favorite Things”.  My partner and I list our three favorite things from the day, and then our three least favorite things. It’s always surprising what sticks out for each of us. A favorite thing can be a specific work of art in a museum filled with a thousand paintings, or an exhibition on a concept I had never thought about (like cannibalism), or really, really great salad for dinner (it was California after all). 

After the trip, I like to think about all of the favorite things, and put together a master list to help really cement the trip in my mind. With regards to the joy of science, I’ve put together a list of my three favorite things from my trip.

Marcos’ Three Favorite Science Things in California: 

Whispering secrets to an ankylosaurus1. Whispering secrets to an ankylosaurus. I love dinosaurs, but I especially love this model of an ankylosaurus at the San Diego Natural History Museum (the Nat). I took an identical photo of me whispering secrets to this prickly dinosaur almost 10 years ago, and wasn’t sure if he’d still be there when we visited this year. I was delighted to see him, and required a duplicate photo. Sometimes we go to museums to see and experience brand new things and concepts, and sometimes we want to see our old favorites every single time. I think about this a lot when I hear our visitors excited to return to their favorite places such as the bear cave in Andy’s Place. 

Seing the Space Shuttle Endeavor2. Seeing the Space Shuttle Endeavor. Growing up in Florida I had the privilege of stepping outside of my classroom and seeing the space shuttle launch every time it happened. It’s one of those things that never got boring, and everybody took a break to watch it happen (we even did this in college). I have a new bucket-list goal of seeing all of the retired space shuttles on display. The Endeavor managed to find a home at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Space Shuttles are huge, and when you stand underneath one of them you realize the immensity of the entire space program. The even crazier thing is you start to ask a million questions—like, how did they drive a space shuttle through the middle of Los Angeles traffic?  

Seeing the Back to the Future DeLorean3. Seeing the Back to the Future DeLorean. The Peterson Automotive Museum is a newer museum in Los Angeles, and is completely devoted the awe-inspiring wonder of cars. I knew that they had an exhibit about automobiles in the movies, but I didn’t expect to get so excited about actually seeing the DeLorean from the movie Back to the Future. This is one of my favorite childhood movies, and I always dreamed of sitting in this unusual looking car and powering up the Flux Capacitor. A team of dedicated enthusiasts completely restored the car to its original glory and it is now a fine museum object. This car inspired me to get excited about science when I was a kid, and then it lured me into getting more excited about the history and mechanics of cars at the Peterson Automotive Museum. 

I love asking visitors about what their favorite things are at the Montshire and I get a wide range of answers (trust me—it’s not always bubbles, blocks, and water). So, what are your three favorite things? Do they change month to month? Are there favorites that you have to visit every single time, things you remember from your childhood, or simply experiences that got you thinking about bigger questions out there in this world? 

Feel free to let me know via email (marcos.stafne@montshire.org) or by tagging me on twitter @marcosstafne  

I hope you all have a great #MontshireSummer.

PS. If I had to list a 4th experience, I’d have to say riding Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land at Disneyland. It lives up to the hype. 

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On Being Human, Curious, and Kind

July, 2016

Fred Rogers and Walt Disney have been incredibly influential in my life. Whenever I have a difficult problem to solve, I ask myself how would Walt re-imagine this situation and how would Fred handle this problem with kindness?

My affinity for Mr. Rogers and Mr. Disney emerge from being born, raised, and having gone to college in Orlando, Florida. It’s hard to grow up in Central Florida and not feel the Disney magic, and Mr. Rogers and I share the proud distinction of loving trolleys and being Rollins College alumni. 

With recent events in my hometown, it’s been a rough few weeks for me, and my heart goes out to all the victims and their families affected by Orlando’s tragedy. My personal and professional life are connected to Orlando in so many ways—I have family who live in the center of The City Beautiful, and my passion for museums emerged from visiting and working at the Orlando Science Center. Now that I live in the Upper Valley, I am incredibly grateful to be part of such supportive and kind community, and my daily Montshire moments instantly turn my thoughts towards optimism.  

We have so many thoughtful people at the Montshire who work diligently to make sure that our visitors have outstanding experiences. There is great care in how each experience is crafted, or “re-imagined.” We know that what we do helps families experience joy together— and provides a safe, inclusive space for visitors to exercise their curiosity, and think of new possibilities.

Walt Disney said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

Over the past few weeks, our entire team worked together to “open the doors” of our Tinkering Loft, a new 2,500-square-foot exhibition dedicated to designing, building, and creating through the act of tinkering. The space is beautiful—aesthetically and programmatically—there are four zones for engineering experiences, and the care invested in the exhibition design is palpable. The process of how the space came together is also beautiful—many people from all Museum departments rallied to create something so special for our visitors to experience together. 

Visitors in Tinkering LoftThe energy of caring is also felt in the many new summer staff who lead summer camps or “explain” science throughout the galleries. We bring in over 30 summer staffers to make our programs happen, and as I walk though their spaces and watch them prepare, I constantly hear conversations about how they want to make this summer the best Montshire summer for the campers and summer visitors. We know that summer is often when the Montshire experience is cemented to a child’s heart—whether experimenting with the water features in David Goudy Science Park, exploring our trails, or watching the wonder of a bubble floating off into the distance.
 
Joy is a great equalizer of pain. So many of us at the Museum find great joy in our work connecting people to science. So many people experience the joy of science at the Montshire. As this summer moves into full swing, let’s not take for granted how amazing it is to be human, curious, and kind. 

As Mr. Rogers said: 

“There are three ways to ultimate success:
The first way is to be kind.
The second way is to be kind.
The third way is to be kind.”


Sincerely, 

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Tinkering

June, 2016

On my first visit to the Montshire, I stopped in the Museum Store to find a memento that I could bring home. My eyes immediately zoomed in on a set of Tinkering Kits, which I had never seen before (and I spend A LOT of time in museum and toy stores). I asked the front-desk staff where the Tinkering Kits came from and was surprised to learn that they are Montshire-made. 

The Museum has developed the kits with all the materials and instructions necessary to make (and re-make) scribble bots, paper circuits, and LED bling. The kits are the perfect extension of activities taking place in our Tinkering Lab and allow visitors to continue their engagement with engineering and science when they get home.

We’ve been working on these kits and Tinkering Lab activities for a few years now, but our in-house production of the kits has been a labor of love for staff at the Museum. 

The Montshire defines tinkering as a playful, exploratory, iterative style of engaging with science content in which people use a variety of materials and real tools to address a design challenge and create personally meaningful objects. When people are tinkering, they are trying out ideas, making adjustments and refinements, exploring design, and experimenting with new possibilities. We want as many people as possible to engage in these types of experiences, and have wanted to expand our platform for this type of engagement for sometime. We believe that tinkering is a great way for people of all ages to experience the joy of science through hands-on discovery.

Last summer, the Montshire worked with Vermont Afterschool to provide Tinkering Kits to afterschool programs all across Vermont. This year, with support from the Kettering Family Foundation, we were able to bring our tinkering experiences to forty schools across Vermont and New Hampshire in celebration of the Montshire’s 40th Anniversary 40 Schools Project. As we continue adding outreach projects we realize that there is more interest in tinkering and our Tinkering Kits than we can actually fulfill, and we need to find a way to take our work to the next level. 

Montshire had an exciting opportunity to apply for an AMP (amplification) Grant from the Entrepreneurs’ Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. This highly competitive grant requires institutions to think entrepreneurially about how they might start, or expand, a particular aspect of their work to have a large impact on the community. This was the perfect match to galvanize our work on the next level of producing Tinkering Kits and expand the impact of Montshire’s tinkering activities. 

This grant is awarded after a competition, much like the popular show Shark Tank, where non-profits pitch their project to a group of entrepreneurs who select the winning project. Our director of education Greg DeFrancis partnered with a coach from the Entrepreneurial Fund to develop a pitch, and over the course of a few weeks he shaped the case for why it’s so important to get kids actively engaged with science and engineering. The Montshire staff got behind this project in full force, working to rehearse and shape the pitch so that we could communicate why funding the Montshire project would positively impact science education in our community. 

I was able to attend the competition and all the nonprofits selected to present spoke incredibly well. Greg was superb in his delivery, and I believe he communicated the passion that each of the Montshire’s staff and volunteers have about getting science into the hands of kids all across our region—and we won the 2016 Upper Valley AMP Award. 

Tinkering is in our DNA as we prototype and build new exhibits, try out new programs, and even work on improving our buildings and grounds. We care deeply about how we can awaken and encourage a lifelong interest in science. Tinkering is one way that we can get people to think critically, experiment, and dream of new possibilities. Our AMP award will enable us to strengthen the production and fulfillment process of our Tinkering Kits and allow us to research and design new tinkering activities that will spark the joy of science in a budding engineer or scientist for years to come. 

If you want to see some of our tinkering philosophy at work, visit the Tinkering Lab which is open through June 19, see how we prototype exhibits in our Prototype Showcase for the upcoming Making Music exhibition through June 12, and visit our exclusive new summer experience, The Tinkering Loft, opening June 25. 

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It’s Your Turn to Lead

May, 2016

Our annual fundraiser, the Fiddlehead Fling Benefit Auction, is this Friday, May 6, and the Museum is buzzing with volunteers gathering together to help make this one the best yet. Last year’s event was one of my first experiences with meeting hundreds of local community members and I was astounded by how intent everyone was to make a collective impact on supporting science education.

At a recent meeting for this year’s auction, I sat around a table with the auction steering committee—fifteen amazing members of our community—as they were finalizing the last details of the auction. The energy in the room was focused, fun, and exciting, and even though we were in a conference room, I felt like we were on the floor of the Museum. At the end of our meeting, one of the auction co-chairs made a profound comment to the group: “I want to thank you all for the hard work that you’re doing to help support the Montshire’s mission of encouraging a lifelong interest in science. I don’t just see great committee members in the room, I see great leaders.”

As I’ve been contemplating my first year of leadership at the Montshire, I’ve been thinking about what it means to lead a 21st century science museum into the future. Our amazing auction volunteers aren’t solely leading the direction of an event. They’re leading an effort to advocate for the importance of science learning.

When you support the Montshire, it’s an acknowledgment that experiencing the joy of science is an important step in developing a well-informed, intellectually curious citizenry. The scientific process of asking good questions and testing informed theories can be applied to many things in life, helping us understand how to make a positive impact.

There is an incredible array of unique items, experiences, and activities (browse our catalog for more detailed information) available in the auction, and one of the most important opportunities for support is our Fund a Need paddle raise. Fund A Need donations help make science-learning opportunities available to everyone through our education initiatives. Scholarships for Montshire Summer Camp, high-quality science programs for kids, professional development for teachers, and early childhood programming at our Science Discovery Lab are a few ways that your contribution will help develop the critical thinking skills of our future leaders.

If you have a future museum leader in your house, you may want to consider a special Montshire-related auction item #806: Museum Director for a Day. This is a great opportunity to have your young leader (age 10 and up) get an intensive look at what it’s like to run a Museum. We’ll do some fun things (like riding in a golf cart to inspect a few of our trails), and we’ll spend time with different people in the Museum exploring how we all contribute to hands-on discovery.

I hope to see you at this year’s Fiddlehead Fling. It’s Montshire’s 40th anniversary year, so it will be extra special! If you can’t make it this year, there are many ways to support the Montshire’s efforts in science education in our community for another forty years to come. 

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