September 2017: Celebrating Women in Science

Felicia Van Stolk teaching at the tidepool

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.

Dr. Sullivan, first American woman to walk in spaceOur 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.

Donna Meyers: Board President

Donna Meyers, Board PresidentDonna 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.

August 2017: Volunteers make all the difference

Volunteer docent teaching a group of children

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,


Emily Harmon: Volunteer Intern

Emily Harmon, volunteer internMeet 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.