April 2018: Appreciating Scientific Illustration

For thousands of years, illustrators have helped us understand the natural world. They communicate details, concepts and scales that cannot easily be conveyed in words, and they enable us to learn more about a subject through their craft. From molecules to galaxies, extinct critters to the inner layers of mountain ranges, scientific illustration helps us envision the often unobservable. It also often enables us to focus on important details, through the scientific lens, all while captivating us with its beauty.

The first weekend in April, we are proud to open the 30th year of our scientific illustration exhibit, The Art of Nature. It is a wonderful collection embodying the special marriage of art and science. This year, we will feature 65 pieces in a variety of artistic styles, such as watercolor, pen and ink, colored pencil, acrylic, and mixed media.One of them is “Flora Californica” (above), which is a watercolor and gouache piece by Santa Cruz artist Yvonne Byers.

The exhibit highlights the diversity of nature, depicting insects, plants, birds, mammals, landscapes, and amphibians. Participating artists include members of the California Guild of Natural Science Illustrators as well as students of UC Santa Cruz’s Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History.

Thirty years ago, our scientific illustration exhibit began as a partnership with UCSC’s scientific illustration program. We are thrilled to include UCSC student artists again this year, with the talented students from the Norris Center’s science illustration class. Their pieces focus on California bees and are part of a new illustrated handbook to bees of the Central Coast. This month, we will continue the bee theme with a multimedia science illustration workshop on “Bees of California” on April 14 and our monthly Naturalist Night on “The Buzz About Local Santa Cruz Bees” on April 25, both in collaboration with our Norris Center partners.

I hope you will join us in exploring this year’s The Art of Nature to experience the natural world through an array of artistic perspectives.

See you at the Museum!

Heather Moffat McCoy
Executive Director



March 2018: Investing in Our Collections

During the past three years, we have been working hard to enrich, expand and diversify our education programs and exhibits, as well as improve our overall visitor experience and deepen our connections with Members.

We are also re-investing in the management of our collections, which form the foundation of our 113-year-old institution. The Museum hired Collections Specialist Kathleen Aston exactly one year ago to build on the organization’s goal of making our wonderful collections more accessible to the public, including digitizing our catalog and conducting the first full inventory in nearly two decades.

Our museum was established on the collection of lightkeeper Laura Hecox in the early 1900s and substantially grew with the addition of the Humphrey Pilkington’s collection in the late 1920s. Since then, thousands of other acquisitions and donations have helped grow our collections to more than 16,000 items, most of which are rarely seen by the public.

Starting in March, the Museum will expand its monthly newsletter spotlight on collections to include a monthly blog by Kathleen called “Collections Close-Up” and a new pop-up exhibit in the Museum galleries that will feature a collections item not often displayed. You’ll also be seeing more about our collections on social media and our website.

Our collections are priceless to us, and we are excited to share them with you, piece by piece. Each object has its own story and we look forward to telling each of them to you. We also are grateful for your support of the Museum, which contributes to management of this critical community resource.

See you soon at the Museum.

Heather Moffat McCoy
Executive Director

February 2018: Exploring Relationships in Science

Flipping the calendar over to February can usher in a lot of excitement: The newness of the new year has worn off, we are close to transitioning into spring and, for many, romance is in the air. This month, our Museum programs will celebrate the latter, science-style — through exploration of the science of relationships and the natural history of the senses.  

For February’s Naturalist Night, we will take a close look at the different kinds of relationships involved in animal reproduction — everything from intense competition among rivals to impressive familial cooperation. In her talk on Thursday, February 8, UC Santa Cruz’s Dr. Suzanne Alonzo will describe her research on a Mediterranean fish species that experiences cooperation and conflict simultaneously between the sexes and among males.

Two nights later, on Saturday, February 10, the Museum will host a date-night themed event called “Sensation,” which will explore the science of sensory experiences and responses. Participants will create their own signature scents and join us for a tantalizing stroll through taste, hearing, sight, sound and smell — all while sipping wine or beer and noshing on fun bites. “Sensation” is the first of several nightlife events this year designed to attract more adults for fun and informative programming at the Museum after hours.

I hope we will deepen our relationship with you this month through our many fun events in February!

See you soon at the Museum,

Heather Moffat McCoy
Executive Director

January 2018: Supporting Your Community Museum

2017 was a banner year for the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. We experienced nearly 20 percent growth in attendance and membership due to community support for our school and public programs, exhibits and special events.

As a fully independent nonprofit organization, we recently launched our Year-End Annual Appeal for general contributions, which make up about 15 percent of the Museum’s budget. Donating to the Museum is an investment in science literacy and future environmental stewardship that builds on the legacy of our founder Laura Hecox, whose birthday we will celebrate on January 27 with a full day of activities. More to come on that in coming weeks.

Meanwhile, we are working on several other exciting initiatives in the months ahead, including a new after-school program for our local Gault Elementary to provide outdoor STEM learning experiences, and plans to translate our exhibit and education materials into Spanish. We are also planning bilingual Investigation Station exhibits that promote critical thinking and encourage multi-generational audiences to interact with artifacts and real specimens.

The year ahead will feature exciting Rio Theatre speakers, a Summer Kick-Off Festival, children’s camps, and a host of fascinating Naturalist Night lectures. As you may have seen in front of the Museum, we also are expanding our native plant garden in partnership with the City of Santa Cruz and Groundswell Ecology to create additional educational and interpretive opportunities.

If you supported the Museum in 2017 by attending a program, making a contribution or joining or renewing your membership, we thank you. We hope you’ll support your community museum once again with a New Year’s Gift. If giving to local nonprofits is one of your new year’s resolutions, we make it easy by offering monthly giving online.

Lastly, I’d like to illustrate exactly what your contribution can help us achieve:

  • $100 supports a class exploring Ohlone culture through our galleries and garden.
  • $250 supports a three-month hands-on Investigation Station tabletop exhibit.
  • $500 supports 5 local classes examining the wetland habitat of Neary Lagoon.
  • $1,000 supports 10 classes discovering the wilds of Pogonip Open Space.

We look forward to serving you in 2018. See you soon at the Museum!

Heather Moffat McCoy
Executive Director




December 2017: Giving the Gift of Membership

As you set out to find the perfect gift for friends, colleagues and loved ones this holiday season, consider giving the gift of membership to the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. While there are many benefits associated with membership, the real value is the sense of community and pride in the Museum that comes with being part of our family.

We are proud to have more than 625 Members, a number that has grown nearly 20 percent since 2016. Memberships help the Museum provide education programs for more than 10,500 K-12 students, as well as family events, camps, dynamic exhibits and preservation of our natural history collections.

All Museum Members enjoy free year-round admission, discounts on Museum programs and merchandise, and invitations to Members-only previews and special events. These include opening night celebrations for The Art of Nature annual scientific illustration exhibit and special temporary exhibits like the current Rocks and Waves featuring historic photographs of natural arches as curated by Frank Perry. We also offer great free programs for Members, such as the recent tidepooling excursion Education Manager Felicia Van Stolk led along the North Coast for Family level and above Members.

We have structured our membership menu to fit a variety of lifestyles and income levels—from $15 annual for Students and Seniors, to $35 for Individuals, $50 for Families, and $100 for Friends. The Friends level and above includes enrollment in the ASTC Passport Program that grants free admission to other participating science centers and museums nationwide.

The Museum also offers Club level memberships, from $250 to $1,000 annually, which include invitations to exclusive events, such as a personal curator walk-through with Frank Perry for Rocks and Waves, and a special From the Vaults: Laura’s Legacy event exploring our foundational collection coming this January.

If someone you know is inspired by the natural world, I hope you’ll consider visiting our membership page to gift them a Museum membership for 2018. We look forward to seeing them—and you—at the Museum very soon. Everyone here at the Museum wishes you the happiest of holidays!

Thank you,
Heather Moffat McCoy
Executive Director

Creating Connections Through Place-Based Learning







In advancing our mission, we strive to anchor all of our educational programs to nature. One great way is to lead the activities themselves in the natural world. Through place-based learning, our audiences are immersed in the content itself. Our school programs at Neary Lagoon and Pogonip are great examples. These terrific partnership programs with the City of Santa Cruz engage students in the natural world through real experiences in our own community’s open spaces. On these trips, important classroom concepts come alive for students, through direct and meaningful engagement in nature.

We also offer a variety of public programs anchored in nature, including our guided walks in local open spaces, our nature sketching classes and our DIY outdoor workshops. This month, we have several nature-based opportunities designed to build better understanding and appreciation of our local wonders.

On Nov. 11, Elise Knittle, Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at UC Santa Cruz, will lead a walk called “History in the Rocks: A Guided Hike of UCSC.” Professor Knittle will help us explore the geology of the campus and greater Santa Cruz area — geology that tells a fascinating story about the landscape and its relationship to the ocean hundreds of millions of years ago.

Just a week later, on Nov. 18, Kate Jaffe, a natural history and wilderness self-reliance youth educator in Santa Cruz, will join fellow artist Kris Nardello in leading a Natural Dye Workshop in the Museum’s garden. The workshop will demonstrate how to use plants, minerals and other materials from nature to dye fabric and make beautiful garments.

And for Family-level and above Members, Education Director Felicia Van Stolk will lead a special tide pool walk at Bean Hollow in Pescadero this Saturday, Nov. 4. It will be a fun opportunity to learn about intertidal life in its natural habitat, right at the edge of the Bay.

I hope that you will join us for one — or all! — of these upcoming learning adventures. Each will provide an interesting new way to examine the world around us.

Thank you,

Heather Moffat McCoy
Executive Director

October 2017: Revealing History Through Geology

As a young undergraduate, I fell in love with science when I first learned to read rocks. There was something so amazing to me about being able to examine a cliff’s rocky layers and to use my knowledge of geology and paleontology to reconstruct the story within them. That revelation opened a whole new world to me—one brimming with stories to learn. Mountains told of tremendous uplift in their folds and faults. Fossils told of ancient oceans now far from any shore. Throughout its long history, our landscape has seen many changes, some dramatic, some minuscule; and the field of geology helps us to interpret those patterns and their underlying processes, thereby revealing the stories within.

While our Museum often focuses on the biological aspects of natural history, we are also proud to showcase our region’s geologic history. Our permanent exhibit on the geology of Santa Cruz County introduces visitors to our region’s common rocks and fossils, such as the large sea cow discovered in Zayante. This month, we will focus on geology through a special new exhibit and several great programs.

On Friday, October 6, we welcome the opening of the Rocks and Waves exhibit designed by Visiting Curator Frank Perry. Open until February 4, the exhibit explores the natural bridges and arches that once were so prominent along West Cliff Drive, where now only a few remain. Geology lies at the heart of the story told through the exhibit’s historical photographs of our past iconic coastal features. Frank will give a special Naturalist Night talk on November 9 to discuss how our local cliffs have changed over the years and why. His talk also will explore how this new exhibit came together, starting in the early 1980s with a budding fascination of old photos featuring the coastline along West Cliff Drive.

Geology also served as inspiration to the next speaker in our Rio Theatre Speaker Series, Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space and the only woman astronaut to explore the deep ocean in a submersible vessel. Dr. Sullivan graduated from UC Santa Cruz with honors in Earth Sciences and a focus on geology, later using that training to become a renowned oceanographer and astronaut. She will give a talk called “From the Sea to the Stars” at 7 p.m. October 11, and tickets are still available at santacruzmuseum.org.

One of the inspirational figures in Dr. Sullivan’s early education was Dr. Gary Griggs, a coastal geologist who will introduce Dr. Sullivan at the Rio Theatre. He and Frank Perry were the first two recipients of the Laura Hecox Naturalist Award honoring our Museum’s founder and our mission to connect people with nature and inspire personal stewardship.

We hope you will join us for the Kathryn Sullivan talk and check out the Rocks and Waves exhibit. Also, please stop by the Museum soon to see parts of our geology collection, including rocks, minerals and fossils specimens.

I hope to see you soon at the Museum.

Thank you,

Heather Moffat McCoy
Executive Director


September 2017: Celebrating Women in Science

As we share the exciting news about the next speaker in our Rio Theatre Series—former astronaut and NOAA administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan—I am reminded of how much our Museum celebrates and reflects the contributions women make to science.

Over a century ago, our institution was built upon the deeded collection of a young female naturalist whose life-long fascination of the natural world led to our city’s first science museum. Today, science education remains at the core of our mission; we strive every day to foster understanding and appreciation of our region’s rich natural and cultural history. And with that, we seek to inspire a curiosity about science in all of our audiences, especially those underrepresented in the field.

I am proud to lead our Museum as a female scientist. While I no longer conduct research, I still enjoy sharing my passion for paleontology and encouraging others to learn more about it. Last month, I sat down with our young “Can You Dig It” campers to discuss my field work experiences and answer their terrific questions. It was a chance to nurture their enthusiasm and to show them all, especially the little girls, that scientists come in many forms.

Female scientists also serve in several additional key roles in our organization. For example, our Education Director Felicia Van Stolk is trained in marine biology and conservation ecology. Felicia’s scientific background informs both the Museum’s school programs and public offerings, including our Rio Theatre Series and monthly Naturalist Night lectures.

We are also pleased to have several women in science on our Board, including the President of our Board of Directors, Donna Meyers. Donna’s background in biology informs her work restoring coastal habitats. She applies various sciences, including hydrology and engineering, in designing and managing projects that support coastal restoration. To learn more about Donna, read about her in this month’s Faces of the Museum.

Our Museum is a place that nurtures and represents women’s experience and interest in the sciences. We are thrilled to showcase prominent female scientists and their work through our public programs. Our previous Rio Theatre speaker, Dr. Allison Galloway, is a nationally known forensic pathologist whose contributions have helped to solve crimes and understand human decomposition. Her fascinating talk examined how her work utilizes many scientific disciplines, as well as a deep understanding of the natural world, in order to find the answers she seeks.

We are honored to include yet another inspirational scientist, Dr. Sullivan, in our Rio speaker series. Dr. Sullivan was the first American woman to walk in space as a member of the Challenger crew in October 1984, and she has also explored the deep waters of the Pacific in the submersible Alvin. She will share her remarkable experiences, “From the Sea to the Stars” exploring two frontiers of science with us on October 11, which marks the 33rd anniversary of her historic walk. I hope you will join us to hear from such a preeminent scientist. It is through programs like this that we stoke our own curiosity and seek to ignite the same fascination of the natural world that gave rise to our founder’s collection and will perhaps excite a future groundbreaking scientist among us.

August 2017: Volunteers make all the difference

Ever since I was a child, the arrival of August has always signaled that another school year is just around the corner. Here at the Museum, our Education team is leading our last week of Summer Camp and beginning to prepare for this fall’s school programs. Excitement is in the air as we look forward to the return of school groups and our wonderful docent volunteers.

The Museum’s volunteers are among our strongest ambassadors, helping us to foster a love of nature through their enthusiasm for natural history and greatly expanding our capacity to fulfill our mission. This past year we expanded our educational programs, introduced great new gallery experiences and reached over 32,000 children and adults through our programming, exhibits and outreach. That’s a 17% increase in attendance over last year’s record! We honestly could not have accomplished this success without our terrific volunteers. Together they provided us with over 3,600 hours of service; to put that into perspective, a full-time employee works 2,080 hours per year. For our small organization, this support made a huge impact on what we were able to accomplish.

However, the value of our volunteers goes way beyond the number of hours they serve. Volunteers enrich the experience of our visitors and members through their interactions. Our docents (school program volunteers) spark school children’s excitement about the natural world by leading our Ohlone and “Our Animal Neighbors” Museum-based programs and our nature-based school trips in Neary Lagoon and Pogonip. With our specimens and artifacts—as well as local natural spaces like the Museum’s Native Garden—docents facilitate first-hand experiences that bring to life scientific lessons children learn in the classroom. They engage students in dynamic experiences and ignite a greater fascination in the natural world, which we hope will lead to future naturalists, scientists and better-informed citizens.

This hope extends far beyond our school programs; it is nurtured in all of our programming. Our volunteers are important partners in helping us to build strong connections between our visitors and nature. We’re lucky to have folks like Emily Harmon, who has been a leader in our Summer Camps, which end August 4. She is featured in this month’s Faces of the Museum, and personifies how community support can help strengthen our programming.

Similarly, volunteers engage the community by participating in Naturalist Nights, walks and workshops, and our bi-annual Rio Theatre lecture series. These events form the foundation of our public programming, and would hardly be as engaging as they are without volunteers greeting guests, interpreting concepts, highlighting our collections, and providing a host of other support.

We hope you might consider joining our Museum family as a volunteer. We welcome a wide range of folks, from retirees to teenagers and every age in between. Docents must be 18 years of age, but those as young as 12 who are looking for a fun way to serve our community can also help us out. If you have a love of nature and wish to share it with others, please join us for our fall volunteer training. All we require is your enthusiasm and availability—we’ll teach you the rest! Learn more.

Thank you,


July 2017: Summer Camp = Scientific Adventure

Do you have fond memories of attending Summer Camp as a child? If even just for a couple of weeks, camp often provides a special opportunity to learn as much about ourselves as we learn about nature. Perhaps you swam in a lake for the first time, discovered you were good at arts and crafts, or spotted an animal in the wild that you had only seen in picture books. And, if you were lucky, perhaps you met a few new friends along the way and kept in touch over the years.

Part of what makes Summer Camp so exciting is the chance to travel far away from home to experience places that look, smell and sound different from where we live. But in Santa Cruz County, we are fortunate to be surrounded by the ocean, the forest and other ecosystems that offer endless possibilities for exploring. This summer, the Museum is offering two weeklong Summer Camps — Winged and Wild and Can You Dig It? — for budding naturalists in grades Kindergarten through 5th who are seeking some scientific adventure in their own backyards. Our campers will explore bird habitats, examine bug species, excavate fossils and rocks, play games and make crafts. The Museum’s education team has put together inventive and interactive opportunities to observe the natural wonders that exist right outside the Museum and at our local state parks and beaches.

While our campers have fun outdoors, the Museum is once again bringing nature indoors for appreciation and contemplation. Building on the popularity of our annual The Art of Nature exhibit each spring, the Museum is launching our first Summer Art Series from July to September. Each month, the Museum will feature a different Santa Cruz artist whose works depict and interpret nature through diverse media. Our three — Marlene Mirrasou (July), Sandra Cherk (August), and Stephanie Martin (September) — will attend free First Friday receptions during the month their works are on display. We hope you’ll stop by, take a look and mingle with the artists.

Additionally, on the day after her First Friday reception, Marlene Mirrasou will host a Cyanotype Workshop on July 8 inside the Museum and in our Native Plant Garden. She will teach us how to make photographs of plants using sunlight rather than our cameras. It’s yet another chance for us all — regardless of age — to simultaneously recreate and learn during these summer months that always fly by too quickly.

See you at the Museum!