Spencer Klinefelter: Education Assistant

Spencer Klinefelter, the newest member of the Museum team, has been teaching summer camps and outdoor education since he was 16.

As the Museum’s Education Assistant, Spencer runs field programs for local elementary schools, develops curricula for classroom kits, and is a leader at Spring Camp. He also helpedEarth Stewards Project partnership with Ponderosa High School plant seeds in the Museum’s new Native Plant Demonstration Garden.

Spencer grew up near Sacramento and attended UC Santa Cruz, graduating in 2016 with a double major in environmental studies and education. He joined the Museum staff part-time in December and will rejoin the team in September once school programs resume. Spencer’s dedication to connecting students with nature extends to his work with Kids in Nature, a local after school program.

“The most rewarding aspect of leading the field programs is watching eyes light up at the sight of a hawk, or hearing that a student can’t wait to return and explore the place further,” Spencer said. “Fostering that curiosity is a gratifying experience.”

Kathleen Aston: Collections Specialist

As our Collections Specialist, Kathleen Aston’s job is to manage the 16,000-plus items in the Museum’s collections, which include specimens, artifacts and objects running the gamut of natural history. To name just a few, the collections include fossils, shells, rocks and minerals, taxidermy, baskets and items of archaeological significance to early Santa Cruz history.

Kathleen joined the Museum in February 2016 as an intern cataloguing items in the pottery collection and trained with then Collections Specialist Chloe Marquart before assuming her current role in February 2017. Kathleen leads efforts to digitize documentation of collections items and re-inventory the collections, and is the main point of contact for any collections-related inquiries.

“We would really like to open our collections more to the public with a forward-facing digital catalog that can be a reference point and research point,” Kathleen said.  

A native of the East Bay, Kathleen first became interested in natural history after attending the Lindsay Wildlife Experience—formerly known as the Lindsay Wildlife Museum—in Walnut Creek. She has a bachelor’s degree in linguistics from Reed College in Portland, Ore., and is working on a master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Washington.

“I’m interested in how we relate to objects and how they help us understand things,” she said. “I am excited to be working with the physical collections and look forward to sharing them with our Members and the public.”

Tyler Falls and Connie Corona: Members and Docents

The older Tyler Falls gets, the more the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History means to him.

Just 12 when his family relocated to the Seabright neighborhood of Santa Cruz, Tyler started visiting the Museum regularly, each time learning something new as he explored the changing exhibits. He remembers getting hooked on aspects of the region’s natural history or fascinated by nature-inspired art that graced the gallery walls.

“It’s just a really cool neighborhood museum,” said Tyler. “More and more, museums are very big in size. You don’t see many museums like this anymore.”

Eventually his family became Museum Members and his visits became more regular — every Saturday in fact, to help Education Manager Felicia Van Stolk feed tide pool animals featured in the Santa Cruz Naturalist Exhibit. And earlier this year, Tyler, now 14, and his mother, Connie Corona, were trained as docents to help with school programs and volunteer for future mobile museum outings.

Connie said the Museum helped the family learn about their new hometown, both through interesting talks and Museum-guided hikes in local open spaces.

“For anyone who wants to know about our region’s natural history, this is a huge gem,” Connie said, noting the Museum’s geology exhibit. “We learned that the entire area was once underwater.”

Starting with the new intertidal touch pools, Tyler said he has noticed a lot of change at the Museum since he first stepped inside in 2015. “In just the short time we have been coming here, the Museum has grown a lot,” he said. “It’s more open and modern.”

Now that Tyler is a little older, he and Connie also have been attending monthly Naturalist Night presentations on various natural history topics, which provides them even more content-rich knowledge for volunteering as docents.

“For any teenager who is interested in the natural world, there is no better way to spend an evening,” Connie said. “The programs are short and chocked full of information. Being a part of the Museum has been such a great experience for us.”

Angela Ward: Operations Manager

Angela Ward brings a wealth of experience in nonprofit administration and education to her role as Operations Manager at the Museum.

Hired as our administrative coordinator in January 2015, Angela is entering her third year working for the Museum, where she oversees finance and human resources. Angela earned a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology and linguistics, and later became certified to teach English as a second language.

Originally from the Sacramento area, Angela worked trails in Yosemite National Park and then returned as a backcountry trail cook before taking a job at a one-room elementary school in the park. She later worked for a local health-oriented nonprofit before pursuing a position at the Museum, whose mission was a natural draw.

“In an increasingly digital world, we need to take time to interact with our environment,” Angela said. “The Museum helps to supplement science education offered in the public school system, the way community arts programs offer immersive experiences in the arts. The Museum helps us learn to care for and explore where we live.”

Angela has been impressed by how much the Museum has expanded and fine-tuned its programming and exhibits since her son first visited about a dozen years ago. Even though Angela is not directly involved in programming, her experience as a bilingual educator is an asset as new initiatives arise.

“I am excited that we are working to expand our reach by improving access to our native Spanish-speaking communities,” Angela said.

Linda Bailey: Business Partner

Linda Bailey knows the real value of her neighborhood.

A leading real estate broker in Seabright, the Museum’s neighborhood in Santa Cruz, Linda believes strongly in reinvesting in the community where she lives and works. That’s why she joined the Museum’s Business Partnership Program, opting to donate a portion of the proceeds from each real estate transaction she closes in Seabright back to the Museum.

“This is such a jewel for our neighborhood—a wonderful place to bring your children, learn more about the nature around you, and gather with your friends and family members,” Linda said. “Seabright just wouldn’t be as special as it is without the Museum. I am happy to support their efforts, and urge my clients and friends to join as Members.”

Linda was the primary sponsor of the Museum’s Summer Kick-Off Festival in June and also supported our celebration in April of “Santa Cruz’s Seabright,” an Arcadia Publishing book about the neighborhood’s history. Proceeds from the book benefit the Museum. Linda works at Vanguard Realtors, which supported The Art of Nature exhibit, also in April.

Read more about Linda and the Business Partnership Program.

Maura Connolly: Volunteer Coordinator

Maura Connolly is the newest member of the Museum team. She started in September 2017 as our Volunteer Coordinator.

A native of Boston, Maura attended Wake Forest University in North Carolina before joining AmeriCorps. Her first assignment was in Tennessee, performing education and outreach about recycling for a county government.

AmeriCorps led her next to California, where she spent a year working as the volunteer coordinator for the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanic Garden, and later two nonprofit organizations.

Maura likes working with volunteers because of their commitment to the community.

“I like that they are willing to show up and contribute to the community, and that this is how they choose to spend their time,” Maura said. “I love getting to know them as individuals and learn from their experience and knowledge.”

Maura said she is especially glad to be working in Santa Cruz because of the natural beauty surrounding it.

“It’s the reason I came to California—I wanted to be close to nature” she said. “I love the beach and am blessed to be among the redwoods. Living and working here have totally inspired me to share my new knowledge with our visitors and volunteers.”

J.M. Brown: Community Relations Manager

As Community Relations Manager, J.M. Brown manages the Museum’s Business Partnership Program, media relations and facility rentals.

Working closely with the Development, Education and Visitors Services teams, J.M. also organizes special events, such as the annual Patrons Reception, exhibit openings, and community celebrations. J.M. joined the Museum in October 2016 after working many years in print journalism and public relations.

Although this is J.M.’s first time working for a museum, he is passionate about stewarding parks and open spaces and is particularly interested in the intersection of art and nature. He is a member of the City of Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Commission and chairs the Arts Council Santa Cruz County Board of Directors.

“I’m so energized by the fondness and appreciation that our community shows for the Museum, and am inspired everyday by the creativity and expertise demonstrated by my colleagues,” J.M. said. “And it’s especially wonderful to see someone’s face light up when they visit the Museum for the first time and recognize all the amazing changes that have been made in the last couple of years.”

J.M. is a graduate of Indiana University’s School of Journalism in his hometown of Indianapolis. He lives in the Seabright neighborhood of Santa Cruz and is a marathon runner.

Donna Meyers: Board President

Donna Meyers joined the Museum’s Board of Directors in 2011 and has served as Board President since 2014. She brings a wealth of knowledge about natural resource management to her volunteer role on the Board.

Through her company Conservation Collaborative, Donna has worked as a watershed consultant on numerous projects to restore coastal habitats and regional waterways, including the Salinas and Carmel rivers. Previously, Donna served as the Director of Conservation for the Big Sur Land Trust and as the West Coast Regional Water Quality Coordinator for the National Marine Sanctuary Program.

A Sacramento area native, Donna first visited the Museum as a student at UC Santa Cruz, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology before going on to earn a master’s degree in environmental management and planning from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. She later joined the Museum as a Member, and for more than 20 years had been enjoying its exhibits and programming when she was approached about joining the Board.

“I just always thought of it as an important community institution,” Donna said, explaining that she has seen the Museum’s relevance increase even more in recent years. “There is more interest in science and natural history in our society these days, and we are starting to fulfill that educational role more prominently. We are just becoming that place where people go to learn about natural history.”

As a woman trained in the sciences, Donna said her dedication to volunteering at the Museum is inspired by its founder, lighthouse keeper and naturalist Laura Hecox, who educated locals and visitors alike about the natural wonders of Santa Cruz more than 110 years ago.

“We are really promoting that legacy of women in science and learning that needs to be maintained and carried forward today,” Donna said. “There is a need to keep people educated in an affordable and accessible way about science and how we manage our resources.”

A 34-year resident of Santa Cruz, Donna also serves as chair of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission and is an avid hiker and surfer.

Emily Harmon: Volunteer Intern

Meet Emily Harmon, a volunteer intern for the Museum’s Summer Camps, which wrap up August 4. Emily grew up in Santa Cruz and is pursuing her undergraduate degree in history from Mills College in Oakland.

Visiting the Museum’s Ohlone Room in the third grade made a lasting impression on Emily, and when she was seeking volunteer opportunities during her summer break, she thought of us. Since early July, she’s been our Summer Camp intern, learning informal science education techniques and leading activities about ocean tides, pollination among Monarch butterflies, and fossil excavation.

“I wanted to be involved with the community and learn more about the Museum,” Emily said. “It’s been a really positive and fulfilling experience!”

Emily is one of about 85 regular volunteers at the Museum. Volunteers contributed more than 3,600 hours of service at the Museum in the fiscal year that ended in June.

Learn more about volunteering.

Frank Perry: Laura Hecox Naturalist Award Winner

Frank Perry is an institution within our institution.

Frank’s professional relationship with the Museum dates back to his time as a student at Soquel High School, when a stint as volunteer led to a job during college. Several decades later, we are lucky to still have him today as a freelance exhibit creator and an irreplaceable resource of knowledge about our history and collections.

In June, the Museum presented Frank with the annual Laura Hecox Naturalist Award, which honors our founder’s love of nature. As a naturalist who is as comfortable leading a hike as he is examining fossils, Frank personifies the Museum’s mission of communicating the importance of the natural world.

Frank (center) was given the award by longtime Museum supporter Randy Widera (left) and Museum Executive Director Heather Moffat McCoy (right). In his introduction, Randy said: “Frank has a deep and relentless curiosity that has uncovered and brought to light so much of our natural, as well as cultural, history. To quote Frank, ‘You can’t separate human history and natural history.’ By combining both, Frank uses them as a lens to focus and share his insights and discoveries with all of us.”

After volunteering to catalog fossils at the Museum in his teens, Frank was hired to work the front desk on Sundays. He was employed at the then city-owned museum throughout his college career, first at Cabrillo College and later at UC Santa Cruz, where he earned a degree in Earth Sciences. One of Frank’s professors was Dr. Gary Griggs, the renowned marine sciences researcher who received the first-ever Laura Hecox Award in 2016.

For Frank, building a career around museum life was a natural fit. “As a kid, I loved museums and had my own nature museum at home,” he said.

Eventually, he became the Museum’s unofficial collections manager, learning a great deal from longtime Curator Charles Prentiss. Frank’s first wage was $1.95 per hour.

“I learned about the way things work in a museum, but I also just learned the kinds of things every young person does when they get a job and need to make it in the world,” Frank said. “I learned how to make change, talk to the public and get along with people.”

Frank went on to work for the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco as a curatorial assistant before coming back to Santa Cruz and working most of his career as a freelance exhibit creator for the Museum of Natural History, as well as other museums and park visitor centers in Monterey, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties.

As someone who knows the Museum’s collections better than nearly anyone, Frank also was hired in recent years to help the Museum deaccession items determined not to be central to its mission, an ongoing process that has resulted in transferring more than 100 items to the Museum of Art & History and other museums.

Frank became the Capitola Historical Museum’s curator in 2013 and also serves as a member of the Collections Committee of the Museum of Natural History. In September, the Museum will premier a new temporary exhibit by Frank called “Rocks and Waves.”