Our People - Becca Hatheway

Climate exhibits and coming full circle

August 19, 2016 | As a child, Becca Hatheway loved watching the weather on the news and taking rain and temperature measurements at school. "I thought that was the coolest thing," she says.

The Virginia native also enjoyed visiting the Smithsonian museums in Washington D.C. when she was young. She remembers wondering what it would be like to work there creating the dioramas and other displays.

So today — working as manager of teaching and learning at UCAR's Center for Science Education (SciEd) and, in particular, overseeing the updated climate exhibit at Mesa Lab — seems like "coming full circle."

Hatheway recently talked about her journey to UCAR 12 years ago, and her work here since, including what she is most proud about with the climate exhibit. The Mesa Lab and its exhibits were mentioned this week in a New York Times travel piece, "36 Hours in Boulder, Colo."

What attracted you to your field?
After receiving a bachelor's degree in religion and environmental studies at Colgate University, I moved to Colorado to ski. I worked for the Breckenridge Ski Resort one year and then did outdoor education, leading backpacking trips during the summer and teaching kindergarten during the school year. I also worked at the Keystone Science School for a year, where I took the students skiing and hiking, and taught them about ecosystems, wildlife, and water quality.

Becca Hatheway at Canyonlands
Becca Hatheway at Canyonlands National Park in Utah last fall. (Photo courtesy Becca Hatheway.)

How did you wind up at UCAR?
After I got a master's degree in science education at Western Washington University, I decided I was ready for a more stable job. I ended up working at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for four years running classroom field trip and teacher professional development programs. Then a job at the UCAR Office of Education and Outreach opened up. I was hired initially to work on education projects for GLOBE and did that for a few years before moving over to Education and Outreach [now SciEd].

What inspires you?
I love that the people we work with are committed and passionate. I think we all feel it's important work we're doing, and that makes it energizing and inspiring. I work on projects where I can learn new things and be creative. And I get to work with all different types of people – scientists who are giving their time and expertise, designers, and fabricators. For example, on one day I looked at paint swatches with the designer and fabricator of our new climate exhibit, and discussed how to make the resin the right color when our ice-core model was illuminated.

What are you most proud of with the climate exhibit?
The original climate exhibit was installed in 2003. So much has changed since then in terms of climate change communications. I'm excited that we're using the best practices to tell the story. Technology has advanced and we have more interactive exhibits: touchscreens, visualizations, hands-on experiences. Also we wanted to include a section of what people can do about climate change, and not leave people with just doom and gloom. I'm excited about reaching a broader swath of people.

What part of the climate exhibit did you most have your handprint on?
Community stories – having real people share their stories about what is happening with climate change in their locations, and what they're doing about it. We interviewed some of the Rising Voices workshop attendees last summer, including elders and youth. We also have connections with the Smithsonian, which is doing a traveling exhibit about water in the U.S. and shared some of their footage with us from people they have interviewed. These stories are part of one of the touchscreens in the exhibit. Eventually we'll dabble with social media by having people upload their stories.

Becca Hatheway in front of the climate exhibit
Becca Hatheway in front of the new climate displays earlier this year. (©UCAR. Photo by David Hosansky. This photo is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)

What kind of reaction are you getting to the climate exhibit?
Generally speaking we have gotten very positive responses. People like all of the information, and the solutions area really seems to resonate — both the table where they can write and draw their ideas and the "Choose Our Future" game [where visitors can see the energy impact of their lifestyle decisions]. When I come up for air I'd like to learn how to handle this feedback so we can learn from it and perhaps use it with other projects. 

Are tour groups or the number of visitors up as a result of the climate exhibit?
We've had a bunch of special visits due to the new exhibit such as a CO-LABS meeting and Museum Educators Roundtable. In terms of planned visits such as schools and camps, we are always at capacity.  

Can you talk about your recent trip to Wisconsin, how that came about, and what you learned there?
Mike Nelson, chief meteorologist at Denver Channel 7, attended the media preview of our climate exhibit in May. He was really excited to see it and asked me to advise the staff at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center in Madison, Wisconsin, on their climate exhibit. Mike is from Madison and used to work for Terry Kelly, who is the founder of the nature center. I joined Mike, Kevin Trenberth [NCAR], Sandy MacDonald [NOAA], and Scott Denning [Colorado State University] on this trip. I think there are areas where we could partner with the nature center on projects in the future, including their new climate exhibit, and we're in discussions about the next step. 

Is the climate exhibit spurring any new projects?
We're developing two new classroom programs about climate change for students who visit the Mesa Lab. These programs will use the new exhibit to complement hands-on activities in the classroom. One program is for grades 3-5 and one for grades 6-8. I've heard from several people or organizations [in addition to the Aldo Leopold Nature Center] who would like to learn more about the exhibit and possibly work with us on other projects, but all of these discussions are in the early stages. In addition, some K-12 teachers and university professors have asked if they can have access to some of the exhibit content to use in their classrooms, and we're working on packaging the content in a usable format. We also are resubmitting a proposal to fund the development of a companion traveling exhibit about climate change that would further build on the community story portion of the project.

What else are you doing this summer now that the climate exhibit is up and running? Are you planning any fun trips, or activities?
I went to New York City in mid-June to visit friends and meet up with my family to see my niece's choir perform at Carnegie Hall, which was very cool. I’ve spent some time in the mountains – mainly in the Breckenridge and Basalt areas - where we did a lot of hiking, kayaking, paddleboarding, and relaxing. Before the summer is over I’m planning to do some camping and am traveling to Annapolis and Washington, D.C., to see friends and family. Mainly I'm looking forward to being active outside, as well as reading a stack of novels that has been building on my nightstand.

Jeff Smith, Science Writer and Public Information Officer