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.

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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Let’s Get Our Imaginations Brewing with Discovery Ale

April, 2016

I learned how to make beer in college.

Every college has that unbelievably hard-to-get-into class. For my school, it was a science course called, “Plants and Humanity.” While the course covered all of the botany basics, we also spent a fair amount of time learning to make wine and beer. Fortunately, I learned a lot about the cultural history and chemistry of making an incredibly popular beverage. Unfortunately, my laboratory beer tasted like a mix of PBR and sewer water.

I’ve never been a big beer drinker, but when I moved up to Upper Valley from Brooklyn a year ago, I had to re-think my take on beer. While Brooklyn Brew might be pervasive in many refrigerators across the country, Vermont and New Hampshire beers have crept their way into corner markets all over Brooklyn. 

Making the finely crafted beer found in our bi-state region requires a tremendous amount of scientific discovery, so when the Brewery at the Norwich Inn heard we were celebrating our fortieth anniversary, they ‘hop’ed on the idea of brewing a beer to honor the Montshire. 

The Brewery at the Norwich Inn is home to Jasper Murdock Ales (named for the Norwich Inn’s first owner from 1797). Located only a few miles from the Museum, the Norwich Inn has been a great community collaborator with the Montshire, including serving Jasper Murdock Ales and wine at our Unleashed evenings for adults. 

Brew Master Jeremy Hebert researched and developed a special brew in celebration of the Museum’s 40th. He describes our beer as “a moderate strength American pale ale, light in color, and brewed from a single variety of hops…with feature aromas that suggest a range of tropical fruits, pears, cherries and watermelon.” 

The Norwich Inn hosted an online competition for community members to help name the beer. Sixty names were submitted. Three finalists were selected and Discovery Ale was the clear winner.

Marketing and Communications Director Beth Krusi and I had the opportunity to watch Jeremy work on the new Montshire Discovery Ale. We were invited to the brewery and observed the “hands-on” science that happens during the first phase of brewing. Marcos Stafne stirring beer mash

Jeremy arrived at 6:30 in the morning to mill grains through a special grinder that he’s constructed (It reminded me of a great tinkering project). The grains are then bagged and stored within quick reach. When we arrived at 7 a.m. to document the process, Jeremy began filling a 150-gallon, double-walled, stainless steel kettle with water that had to be between 140 and 170º. Once the kettle was full, he began adding in bags of malted barley and hops while we all took turns stirring the mash. The brewing process continued after we left, and will be fermenting for the next several weeks.

While Jeremy does all of this on his own, it was a lot of fun to have a hand (or at least a stirrer) in the process of bringing Discovery Ale to the Upper Valley. The first batch will be bottled and available at the Fiddlehead Fling, the Montshire’s annual auction and fundraiser. You’ll be able to celebrate the Montshire with Discovery Ale at Jasper Murdock’s Alehouse at the Norwich Inn shortly after the Auction. 

It’s been an amazing experience collaborating with a great community partner in Norwich, and we hope that some great conversations about science happen at a table near you soon. 

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Talking about the +Talks at the Montshire

March, 2016

Each science exhibition has a story behind its creation, and some exhibitions even use stories to communicate important concepts and themes. The story behind Human Plus: Real Lives + Real Engineering is near to my heart, because it involves personal connections to the individuals who offered advice and helped plan the exhibition.

Human Plus was developed by the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). I worked for NYSCI when this exhibition was being proposed by Eric Siegel (then Museum Director and Chief Content Officer—my big, big boss at the time). Eric’s vision was to develop an exhibition about how adaptive technology helps advance human ability—especially for those who have extra challenges. Eric’s daughter, Lilith Sigel uses a walker to get around. He often expressed discontent over how little the technology that Lili used has changed over the past 20 years—and wouldn’t it be great if a user of this type of technology could have input into the design process. 

Here’s Eric talking about Human Plus

While I was at NYSCI, Lili interned in my department, and it taught me a great deal about the challenges faced by people with physical disabilities. If I want to walk from one end of the Museum to another, I don’t even think about how long it will take me… but for people who need to use canes, walkers, or wheel chairs, extra thought must be made to consider obstacles (like stairs or exhibits that are too close together), and the amount of physical endurance that needs to be expended to move from one place to another. 

Many years later, with the help of an incredible team of advisors (including Lili), the Human Plus exhibition was completed and is now featured at the Montshire. The personal stories help connect visitors to the experiences of both designers and technology users. 

These stories are present in the Upper Valley as well, and it’s our great pleasure to present +Talks, a series of discussions that celebrates the central themes within the exhibition. +Talks take place at the Museum on the first four Tuesdays in March, and feature specialists in human evolution, implant technology, adaptive technologies in sports, and community well being. The talks begin at 6:30 p.m. and are free and open to the community. 

The big questions we’re going to cover are: What happens when our bodies are injured, born with a challenge, or just wear out? What happens when you start adding technology to the outside and inside of our body? How do you adapt a single activity for multiple people with disabilities? How do we support a community with differences? 

Each +Talk will involve a short introduction by me to connect the evening’s theme to the Human Plus exhibition. Our featured speaker will present for ten to fifteen minutes, and I’ll ask a few questions to get our minds working.  We’ll then open the conversation up to the audience. 

In our first program, The Evolution of Walking: The Perils of Bipedalism, Dr. Jeremy DeSilva will discuss our evolutionary history and explain how the engineering of our body sometimes works against us—especially when it comes to our feet. I first met Jeremy when he came for a visit to discus his work in paleoanthropology—he’s responsible for bringing famed paleoanthropologist Lee Berger and our Homo naledi casts to the Museum last fall. Jeremy studies prehistoric locomotion—specifically feet and ankles. He sparked me to think about the parts of our body that might be overly complicated—remnants of our prehistoric evolution. For example, the human foot has 26 bones. If we need to replace a human foot, we don’t necessarily make an exact replica, because there are more efficient ways to accomplish walking. 

I was first introduced to Dr. Michael Mayer during a Thayer Engineering Open House last spring at the Dartmouth Biomedical Engineering Center when he was demonstrating the evolution of hip implants. This technology requires a huge amount of collaboration between various fields of science (think MD’s, engineers, materials scientists, chemists, and more). His talk, Engineering on the Inside: Innovations in Implants will review how implants have changed over the years.

One of the featured exhibits in the Human Plus exhibition is an interactive mono ski experience. The mono ski is only one tool that allows Managing Director Maggie Burke of Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sport to provide thrilling outdoor adventures for people of all abilities. In her talk, Sports for Every Body, Maggie will discuss how her organization utilizes a range of technology to empower athletes with disabilities to have access to sports and recreational activities. She’ll also demonstrate a range of equipment.

A few months ago, when I was discussing Human Plus with our Board Chair, Philip McCaull, he suggested that I watch the documentary the Crash Reel featuring the story of champion snowboarder Kevin Pearce. An Upper Valley native, Kevin Pearce experienced a traumatic brain injury, and the documentary followed his recuperation. I was impressed at how involved his family and friends were in creating a support network for his recovery. Kevin and his brother Adam founded the Love Your Brain Foundation, an organization that helps all people understand what it means to truly love their brain. Adam’s program, Balancing Brains, Bodies and the Mind, will showcase how a caring community can improve mind-body connections to help people with brain injuries improve their quality of life. Check out this interview with Kevin and Adam Pearce from Vermont Public Radio’s Vermont Edition. 

I’m excited to bring these programs to the Montshire and hope to see many of you over the next few Tuesdays. If you have questions for any of our speakers you can tweet them to me at @marcosstafne #PlusTalks or email me at marcos.stafne@montshire.org. 

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