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.

Warm Welcome: Making the Montshire Accessible for Families

So many amazing things happened in 2016 at the Montshire. We developed The Tinkering Loft and Making Music exhibitions, installed Ripple Effect by artist Dan Snow, celebrated our 40th Anniversary, worked with 40 schools to spark tinkering programs, and developed a new strategic plan. This was a year in which we talked to a lot of people about what was happening on our 100 acres and beyond—and listened to people tell us how the Montshire is important to them. 

So many people have incredible connections to the Montshire, but two conversations I had this year have really stuck with me.

Marcos Stafne at Rollways exhibitDuring my research for our strategic plan, I interviewed many people including family members who participate in our Warm Welcome program. This program provides deeply reduced admission or membership fees to families with economic disadvantages. One mother from the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont explained that while she would always make sure her kids could visit the Museum once a year, her Warm Welcome membership enabled her family to visit at least once a month—making the Montshire central to the educational development of her kids.

My second memorable conversation was with a friend who is a single mom. When discussing the economic issues that are facing many single parents in the Upper Valley, she explained that when you have a membership at the Montshire, you know that you always have a place to go that is good for your family. 
 
These two statements mean so much to me as a person who has devoted his life to working in museums. Visiting our local science center as a kid is one of my favorite memories. Looking back, I know that these frequent trips established my passion for curiosity and discovery.  I also learned about dinosaurs, sound waves, space, snakes, bubbles, electricity, more about dinosaurs, weather, sound, and the human body—all by following my own interests in a free-choice, hands-on learning environment. Whatever I wanted to discover—there it was—and I endlessly talked about whatever I experienced with my family.

Having a place in our community where families can grow together is vitally important. Programs like Warm Welcome help to ensure that people of all socioeconomic levels can practice the critical thinking skills that scientific inquiry provides. Last year, more than 1,200 families utilized Warm Welcome memberships (25% of our total membership base) and we welcomed more than 21,000 visitors to the Museum through the program overall. 

The Warm Welcome program would not be possible without the generous support of our community. I want to personally thank everyone who has supported this and other programs at the Museum. Having the Montshire become a routine in people’s lives means that science is active and present in their minds. We hope that in 2017 we’ll see an increase in the utilization of this amazing program, and that the discoveries found at the Montshire will be shared at dining room tables and car rides home for years to come. 

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Thinking Strategically

One of the major projects Montshire has been working on over the past year is a strategic plan to guide our next four years. This plan involved a tremendous amount of community-based research that involved many of our visitors, members, and supporters—so thank you to those who participated. Your feedback was incredibly helpful in our thinking about what comes next for the Montshire. In March 2016 the board met to discuss the research and formulated four goals that compose a framework for our strategic vision. The Montshire’s board of trustees met in September 2016 and approved the following strategic vision, goals, and plan. 

Girls at Sea of Clouds exhibit

Our vision is to engage people of all ages in experiencing the joy of science by maximizing opportunities for discovery for our primary and emerging audiences and elevating our outdoor experiences. To make this possible, we will need to strengthen our core base of operations and tell our story in new and exciting ways. 

As we Maximize Opportunities for Discovery, we’re looking to focus on our core audience of families with children ages 8 and younger and develop new opportunities for families with children ages 9-14. We want to provide fresh experiences including new programs and rotating exhibits while maintaining our PreK-8th grade school services and programming for teens and adults. 

Elevating Our Outdoor Experience requires us to map out a high-level master plan for our 100-acre landscape and build a network of community partners to collaborate on outdoor maintenance, management, and new educational programming.

Internally, we want to Strengthen Our Core by designing and implementing a rolling, multi-year business plan that strengthens internal operations.  We also want to develop and execute an improvement plan for amenities, infrastructure, staff capacity, funding, and facilities.

To Tell Our Story in a more clear and compelling way, we want to hone our brand identity and communications strategies, as well as deepen our community, regional, and national profile.

We want to ensure that we continue building on our current level of success, remain relevant and responsive to our community, and pave the way for the Montshire’s future. We’ve been here for 40 years, and through the next four years we will develop and galvanize our operations to best serve our community for the next 40.

Read the entire Montshire Museum of Science Strategic Plan 2016-2020

If you have questions, please feel free to email me at marcos.stafne@montshire.org.

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PrehistoROCK! Singing Dinosaurs Spark Collaboration

PrehistoROCK!

When most people think about dinosaurs that sing and dance their minds gravitate to that lovable (but slightly annoying) purple T. rex that lulled kids to sleep with his “I love you…you love me…” 

In my mind, if a Tyrannosaurus rex was going to sing, he would definitely not sing a lullaby. In the late 90’s I was tasked with producing a musical about dinosaurs for the Orlando Science Center. I thought the “king” of dinos should at least have a number worthy of Elvis Presley—and so began my journey in working on PrehistoROCK! A Dinosaur Musical

Seventeen years later I was amazed to see my old paleontological pals brought back to life by Northern Stage’s Youth Ensemble Studio (YES) program. Though a collaboration between Northern Stage, Montshire Museum of Science, Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS), and Tuck’s Rock Dojo, residents of the Upper Valley were treated to seeing a rocking T.rex, a swinging stegosaurus, a reggae-loving pterodactyl, and a blues-singing triceratops. 

Theater and museums are a natural fit. Many museums across the country utilize live theater or demonstrations with theatrical techniques as an interpretive tool to spark the joy of learning to museum visitors—there’s even an International Museum Theatre Alliance. In 1999 I was part of an ensemble of theater specialists that worked at the Orlando Science Center to produce a series of plays that helped unpack the content found on the exhibit floor. 

PrehistoROCK! at VINS

PrehistoROCK was inspired by an experience I had working in a real paleontology lab in Arizona. Paleontology wasn’t as fun as I’d had hoped it would be, so when my team at the Orlando Science Center was tasked with writing a show about dinosaurs, we thought that the ultimate respite for a bored paleontologist would be to dream up dinosaurs! With the help of co-author Heather Leonardi, and composer Robert Houle, we brought the story of Bailey Bones, a bored paleontologist intern to life in PreshitoRock! The show was later produced at the Capital Children’s Museum and the New York Hall of Science. 

In early 2016, representatives from Northern Stage, VINS, and the Montshire met to discuss collaboration. The YES program’s production at the Montshire and VINS coincided with the Montshire hosting the Dinosaur Revolution exhibition, and VINS’ Birds are Dinosaurs exhibition. The Upper Valley was going to have amazing dino-moments. 

Using content-based theatre is a great way for middle school students to accomplish a number of educational goals. Led by Northern Stage’s Eric Love, participants in the YES program were able to stretch their science skills and learn about dinosaurs, experience different musical styles found in the production, gain skills in dance and puppetry, and get real performance experience in front of audiences in two museums. Partnering with students at the Tuck’s Rock Dojo, the YES participants also got to perform with a live band. 

For the Montshire and VINS, our audiences were treated to a fun, family-friendly science theatre piece that extended the learning goals of our exhibitions. We also were able to see the excitement of the middle school YES participants as they engaged with our exhibits during breaks and after the shows. 

We know that people of all ages can experience the joy of science or get inspired to care for the environment when they visit our facilities. Seeing the YES participants explore the Montshire’s Dinosaur Revolution maze and watching a VINS raptor program is a great indicator that kids ages 9-14 really enjoy experiencing hands-on science. 

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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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