Selena Stein: Visitor Services Representative

If you’ve visited the Museum on the weekend lately, you may have seen a new smiling face greeting you at the front desk — that of Selena Stein, our Visitor Services Representative who joined us as we reopened our doors this past spring. Selena grew up in Santa Cruz County and even volunteered as a teenager here at the Museum, leading tours and sharing her passion for this land we are lucky to call home.

College in the stunning Pacific Northwest took her away from Santa Cruz, but not for long. Since she returned in 2011 she has worked with children and found nonprofits to be a perfect outlet for serving her community. She is thrilled to be back at the Museum and delights in conversations with visitors of all ages.

“It is such an honor to be part of the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History’s dynamic team. I adore this beautiful space and eagerly welcome guests of all ages,” said Selena.

As part of our Visitor Services team, Selena excels at making our visitors feel welcome and is delighted to connect community members with the natural world. In her own words, “My goal now is to support visitors to feel comfortable and engaged so they want to connect with and better care for the earth,” which makes her the perfect addition to our organization.

When not representing the Museum at the front desk, Selena can be found outdoors playing in nature with her husband, daughter, and puppy. Her happy place is under the great redwoods and dipping her feet in the ample water sources here in Santa Cruz County. 

Join us in welcoming Selena to the Museum!

Rocio Sánchez-Nolasco: Public Programs Coordinator

Meet Rocio Sánchez-Nolasco, our Public Programs Coordinator, and newest member of the Museum team. Rocio grew up in Santa Cruz County and has cultivated her life-long appreciation for nature through gardening and by exploring local wetlands, beaches, and forests.

Like many locals, Rocio recognizes how special our region is. “I was fascinated and inspired by the diversity of habitats in the Central Coast, and beyond,” she said. “I think knowing that there is always something new out there to learn about constantly motivates and inspires me to research and get out in nature more.”

Rocio graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a B.A. in Art History and a minor in Digital Humanities. While at UCLA, Rocio learned about the importance of museum education and public programming in helping bridge a sense of community among people of all walks of life and cultivating knowledge through different perspectives.

“My favorite thing about museums is that they can provide a space for new knowledge and curiosities to spark intrigue, community, and learning in an unparalleled way,” said Rocio.

In her short time here at the Museum, Rocio has already brought our community together through outdoor events such as Saturdays in the Soil and Out and About, and she continues to support our Public Programs department behind the scenes in a multitude of ways. She is excited to continue to share her passion for local ecology and museums by helping others learn and connect to nature.

In her spare time, Rocio can be found at the beach, watching horror films, or making art. One of her favorite outdoor spaces to visit locally is the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve where she enjoys viewing the vast number of plants, birds, and marine mammals that rely on this critical wetland habitat.

Please join us in welcoming Rocio!

Natalie Johnston: Volunteer Coordinator

Natalie Johnston, Volunteer Coordinator

We cover a gamut of topics here at the Museum, from the mysteries of the ocean to the delights of the forest and everything in between. Because of this, our Volunteer Program is full of community members who are drawn to us for a variety of reasons. From retired teachers interested in connecting our youth to the culture of the Amah Mutsun to researchers enthusiastic about sharing their love of rocks with others, we’ve got it all.

So we are thrilled to welcome our new Volunteer Coordinator, Natalie Johnston — an enthusiast of all things natural history.

Natalie has helped to teach astronomy classes at UC Davis where she received a B.S. in Biological Sciences, she’s managed the science section at a bookshop, and for the past seven years has worked as a science communicator at an aquarium. So from the land to the oceans and everything outside of our atmosphere, Natalie is full of interesting factoids. 

Natalie grew up in the Chihuahuan Desert, but has spent half of her life in the Monterey Bay area. Every day, she is grateful for the abundant trees, beautiful ocean, and moderate climate. “While I may not be a native species,” she jokes, “I hope I’m considered naturalized, not invasive, at this point.”

Natalie loves to learn, and thinks that the Museum is the perfect place to do so. Every time she talks to one of the Museum’s volunteers, she learns something new. In addition, she’s drawn in by the passion and joy volunteers bring with their service.

Since entering her new role, Natalie has had a great deal of fun with our Saturdays in the Soil stewardship program, deepening her knowledge of native plants while helping tend to our native plant garden. She’s also especially fond of the Museum’s 3rd grade Wetland Walk education program at Neary Lagoon, where youth can learn how exciting bird-watching can be. We look forward to seeing what Natalie contributes to the Museum’s little ecosystem.

Ellen Stone: Education Assistant

Ellen Stone, Education Assistant

Ellen Stone began her journey with the Museum as an event and outreach volunteer, but she joined our staff this past September as one of our intrepid Education Assistants.

In her role here, she can often be found leading school field trips at the Museum or out in nature. Ellen recalls a touching moment with one child while teaching a Nature Rangers program at Pogonip: “A little girl was following me around asking questions and so I lead her to a small spring in the ground where water was bubbling up. She sat there in awe with her eyes on the spring after we talked about what it was, and later came up to me to thank me for showing her. Sweet moments like these make me feel grateful to be able to weave my passions and values into the work I do every day in order to help children grow their relationships with nature.”

Ellen spent her own childhood peering into creeks, hiking in the mountains, and visiting the Natural History Museum in her hometown of Santa Barbara. She made her way up to the land of the redwoods to attend UC Santa Cruz, obtaining her B.S. in Environmental Studies. Since graduating, she has focussed her time on being outdoors, helping children make connections with the natural world. 

Both at the Museum and at home, she also loves finding ways to combine her love of art and nature through a variety of mediums and is always excited to try something new – from natural dyes, to weaving baskets, to nature journaling. Her appreciation for the natural world grows with every plant she respectfully uses for a project or for every landscape that she documents through sketching. 

Please join us in welcoming Ellen to the team!

Alex Krohn: Community Partner

Alex Krohn, Community Partner

A naturalist is someone who studies the patterns of nature. They seek to deepen our understanding of the natural world by observing the interconnected relationships of living things and their environments. Or in other words: Alex Krohn.

“Santa Cruz has the highest density of naturalists per capita of anywhere I’ve been, and I know the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History plays a large role in fostering, supporting, and helping grow that community. That’s something I absolutely support, and something I’m proud to be a part of,” said Alex — a Member, program provider, and collaborative partner of the Museum.

Alex has helped to facilitate a number of loans from the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History to our Museum for events such as our annual Halloween bash, Museum of the Macabre, and exhibits such as the new Mushrooms: Keys to the Kingdom Fungi, January 11-March 1, 2020. He has also led programs for the Museum as a naturalist and frequents our events as a Museum Member. As if that weren’t enough, he is a big fan of our Gift Shop. “So far I’ve done almost all my holiday shopping in the Museum’s gift shop,” he said, which we just love.

Though it is a treat to witness Alex engage on any natural history subject, he is primarily a reptile and amphibian specialist with a PhD in Evolutionary and Conservation Genomics from UC Berkeley. He loves helping connect people with all aspects of nature, both from his post as Assistant Director of the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History at UC Santa Cruz and across the natural lands of Santa Cruz County.

“Santa Cruz County is a truly amazing place,” he said. “We have fantastical species found nowhere else on Earth — from half-dollar sized beetles that only fly at night during the first rains…to multiple manzanita species only present on patches of geologic beach sand that was pushed to the top of a mountain. We have towering redwoods, and sandhill chaparral and coastal grasslands, each more inspiring depending on the day of the week.”

Alex says that his favorite part of his work at the Norris Center is stewarding the collection: “I’m in charge of helping care for, organizing and digitizing more than 130,000 specimens of mostly terrestrial (but some aquatic!) species — from bryophytes to birds.”

Providing access to these collections is paramount for Alex, as is fostering an interest in nature and museums for the students he serves at UC Santa Cruz, many of whom have interned in the Education and Collections Departments of our Museum.

We are grateful to have his support as a local naturalist, important community partner, and engaged Member and friend of the Museum. Explore the wonderful work the Norris Center does by paying them a visit or learning more on their website, and visit some of the mushroom specimens we have on loan from them through our Mushrooms exhibit, opening January 11.

Lisa Robinson: Museum Supporter

Lisa Robinson, Museum Supporter
Lisa Robinson helps install a plaque with the Branciforte chapter of the E. Clampus Vitus organization.

Lisa Robinson is a renaissance woman. As President of the board for the San Lorenzo Valley Historical Society, which owns and operates the San Lorenzo Valley Museum, she works on everything from website maintenance to managing collections and curating exhibits. Bringing together knowledge and skills from a wealth of disciplines learned over the course of a varied career, Lisa’s own work mirrors the richness of the many histories she strives to share with her community.

It was Lisa’s career as a Silicon Valley tech engineer that first brought her to the Santa Cruz Mountains. After leaving the tech world to spend more time with her family, Lisa embarked on an educational mission to support her burgeoning interest in history and art. Here she demonstrated her knack for curating coherent stories from various content – she developed her own Historic Preservation certificate from classes already being offered at her alma mater. She has applied these interests and skills to her local museum for nearly 15 years, where she began volunteering as a school programs docent. 

When asked about her favorite pieces at the SLV Museum, she struggles to choose just one. There’s a bound copy of a full year of the newspaper, “Community”, written by a high school teacher with the help of his students; the records from a local judge telling some interesting local stories; a splinter of wood from an infamous stagecoach accident; a wooden box built from the wreckage of the burned Felton Community Hall… Diverse pieces that tell many stories in different ways. The diversity of the collection is one thing she wants folks to know about–there are so many ways to connect with the past and to better consider our current times. 

Lisa’s love of history is also demonstrated in her choices for her favorite nature connections: the redwoods of Henry Cowell, the lime kilns, and an old gnarly tree–the Oldest Inhabitant, on Love Creek Road. These places are not only beautiful pieces of nature, they also tell important stories about the area’s rich history. You can’t tell human history without telling natural history, and this is why Lisa is also a supporter of the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. She has played a crucial role in our collaborations, and enjoys seeing co-located exhibits at the SLV Museum and the Museum of Natural History. When the same exhibits are shown in each museum, viewing things from the perspective of natural history and cultural history, we have an opportunity to learn something different in each context. 

The role of a museum, according to Lisa, is to tell stories and connect us to history, not as an abstract thing, but as something relevant and important to our contemporary lives. This can be done in many ways, but museums must strive to tell stories from as many perspectives as possible. 

This is an especially exciting challenge when curating an exhibit with community-contributed content like SLV’s upcoming annual holiday collections exhibit. Once the museum receives submissions of objects from local residents, Lisa’s job is to tie them all together in a compelling display that is both relevant and true to their past. In that, she is a shining example and we are proud to have her as part of our Museum community.

Elise Scheuermann: Education Assistant

Elise Scheuermann, Education Assistant

Elise Scheuermann, one of our newest Education Assistants, has been exploring the outdoors since she was a child. She grew up in Santa Barbara, where she spent her time discovering tide pools, trekking in the mountains, and swimming in the ocean. Her family encouraged her to spend as much time outside as possible and together they spent many weekends camping on a remote piece of land in the Ventana Wilderness.

She feels lucky to spend every day outside and continually feels that working with children is a rewarding experience that gives her a strong sense of purpose.

“In my short time here I have had multiple students tell me that our field trips are the best one that they have ever been on,” says Elise. “It is also exciting to hear that they want to come back and visit the Museum and our green spaces again with their families.”

Elise has a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Education from the University of California, Santa Cruz and is a Certified California Naturalist. She joined the Museum as an Education Assistant in September 2019, and is integral to our school programs, leading groups at Neary Lagoon, Pogonip and at the Museum.

I grew up frequenting my local Natural History Museum and learned so much from their exhibits and programs. I have always thought it would be an amazing experience to get to work for one, so I am really excited to become a part of the team here in Santa Cruz.

When not at the Museum, Elise can be found working at Kids in Nature, a local after school program, or out surfing, biking, and taking her dog Milo on hikes around Santa Cruz. Please join us in welcoming Elise to the Museum team!

Wayne Thompson: Paleontologist

Wayne Thompson, Paleontologist

Meet Wayne Thompson: paleontologist, science educator and friend of the Museum. Wayne holds a long and rich history with us — he was the first person to receive our mastodon skull when it was brought through our doors and, today, he helps advise our Collections department.  

Wayne first came to the Museum in 1976 as a high school sophomore, eager to continue to explore the world of paleontology. A youth employment program launched by former President Jimmy Carter granted the option to work here at the Museum alongside Charles Prentice and Frank Perry, and Wayne jumped at the chance. He prepared fossils, guided guests through the galleries, and tended to our collections, among other duties.

His passion for paleontology began much earlier when, as a young boy, his father created Lost World: a 40-acre amusement park in Scotts Valley populated by curious trees and fiberglass dinosaurs. He recalls crawling inside the belly of the Triceratops with his brother, rocking the large metal I-beam like a see-saw and roaring to bring the structure to life for guests to enjoy. But fiberglass dinosaurs could only sate his interest for so long, so he also spent time in the fossil-rich hillsides of the Santa Cruz Mountains, hunting for remnants of creatures long since gone. 

Today, he’s an active researcher and science educator at Clarence Thomas “C.T.” English Middle School. He has taught at a number of California schools, holding a Master’s of Education from San Jose State University and a Bachelor’s of Applied Science, specializing in Paleontology, from UC Berkeley, among other certifications. 

He has excavated dinosaurs in the U.S. — one personal highlight was uncovering a young triceratops in the eastern Montana high desert — and researched human evolution in the Lake Turkana Basin, Africa, and planktonic foraminiferans in the Gulf of Aden with the U.S. Geological Survey. 

“But closer to home is where my passion lies,” he said. “The fossil history of Santa Cruz is just so fascinating, from mastodon skulls to shark teeth!” 

For those who want to explore the world of paleontology but don’t know where to start, Wayne recommends visiting the Museum or library, digging into the literature and connecting with scientists. 

“Start talking to people. Start spending time outside and look around your environment. Ask questions about what you see and seek answers.” 

Connecting curious minds is one of his greatest joys, he added, and welcomes all who are interested in paleontology to reach out at wthompsonctems@gmail.com

Terry Eckhardt: Board Member

Terry Eckhardt, Board Member

Meet Terry Eckhardt, the newest member of the Museum’s Board of Directors, retired educator and natural history enthusiast. Terry first moved to Santa Cruz in 1972, where he lived near the mouth of the San Lorenzo River and worked as a swimming instructor. He became a schoolteacher just a few years later, which brought him to our Museum when he began taking his students on field trips.

“The students loved the shark teeth so much,” he warmly recalled, noting that he used to borrow the Museum’s fossilized shark teeth to share in his classroom.  

Today, he still resides in Santa Cruz and is happy to serve on the boards of local organizations like the Elkhorn Slough Foundation. Terry said he enjoys investing in these groups and seeing positive impact blossom through their work. He’s eager to support the Museum’s growth by helping us to build stronger connections with other scientific organizations in our community.

Another area where Terry aims to help the Museum thrive is in strengthening connections with Latino communities in our area. As we expand our bilingual offerings through translated exhibit labels and other materials, outreach remains a top priority as well, with after-school programming at nearby elementary schools and public programming through mobile museums and events like the Monterey Bay Birding Festival. Terry’s support, along with the Board and staff’s commitment, play an important role in this continued growth. 

In addition to enjoying the area’s unique natural history through fishing and hiking, Terry’s influence for joining the Museum stems partly from family. His daughter, Mimi, recently completed an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science from Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona. Her passion for nature is infectious, he said, and he hopes to help others — especially those who haven’t had the opportunity to engage nature —  forge that same strong connection to the natural world.

“Sometimes people don’t have much of a chance to go out and see, touch and listen to the natural world,” he said. “The more we do that, the better.”

Equally as infectious, he added, is the enthusiasm of the Museum crew: “I’m so impressed with the people that support the Museum, from the staff to the volunteers” he said. “We’ve got a lot of variety and a lot of passion. It’s an honor to work with them!”

Brian Johnson: Collections intern

Brian Johnson, Collections intern

Ask Brian Johnson which native animal he’s most excited about and he’ll name several; California newts, bald and golden eagles, rattlesnakes, trout, and salmon all make the long list. Learn a little more about Brian’s experience in natural history — from a childhood spent among elephants to college quarters spent identifying birds in the field — and it’s easy to see why he’s passionate about so many creatures. Today, he adds to that experience as our collections intern. 

Where others travel across oceans to spend time with exotic animals, Brian was born into a life rich with wildlife. Raised by a father who trained elephants, it wasn’t unusual to find a young Brian napping on a hay bale beside the large mammals’ enclosure or peering up at sharks inside an aquarium long after paying guests had left.

“I grew up hanging out with elephants, tigers, and pretty much any animal you can think of,” he said. 

Those experiences nurtured a lifelong interest in natural history, which most recently led him through earning his BA in Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz. There, at the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History, he volunteered to prepare study skins and teach other students the craft of taxidermy, among a mix of internships and classwork, including the start of his work in the Museum’s Collections Department

With a camera and taxidermy tools by his side, Brian has done great work in short order.  Now applying to graduate programs all over (and some outside) the country, he’s leaving us with a newly digitized and inventoried bird collection, as well as a guide on the current practices in the care and maintenance of taxidermy specimens. 

“Being in a collections room for a museum is pretty special,” he said. “Not many people get to hang around specimens that are over 100 years old, interact with them and do detective work to figure out where they came from, and I think that’s really cool.” 

Alongside natural history, one of Brian’s greatest passions is skateboarding. He began skating when he was a young teen and, to this day, still teaches skateboarding summer camps that see over 1,000 kids each year.

“I don’t think my parents realized how much I was into it until I built a big ramp in our backyard and ran off every summer to teach kids how to skate.”

For others who are interested in volunteering and interning, Brian has one message: “Get involved and stay involved.” Whether leading hikes or tending to artifacts, museums can always use an extra hand, he said.