Meet Laura Poppick: Welcome to Hermit Crab City

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Hermit Crab City was my favorite haven as a kid. Tucked within the tall, sandy bluffs of Block Island, RI, this cluster of tide pools – dubbed Hermit Crab City by my Dad – always revealed dozens of scuttling creatures if we looked hard enough. During summer vacations, my brothers and I would wade with our heads bent down until we spotted a shell moving along the shallow pool floor. We’d carefully pick each up and examine their beady eyes. I squirmed with glee as their small claws tickled my hand.

When I learned in middle school that some scientists spent entire workdays loping around tide pools, rain forests, or other far off regions of the world for research, my mind buzzed. I joined a science club that allowed me to get outside and even skip some classes to give us time for fieldwork. I loved getting mucky in streams and forests while everyone else sat antsy at their desks.

By college, the spirit of discovery that Hermit Crab City had instilled in me flared strong. My geology major at Bates College in Lewiston, ME brought me kayaking along the coast of Maine mapping rock formations, wading through rivers collecting sediment samples, and drilling through frozen ponds inspecting wintertime aquatic life.

And the summer before my senior year, I found myself steering a small motorboat in Laura_Glacierfront of a massive Arctic glacier, collecting long mud cores and deep blue iceberg samples to study glacial retreat due to climate change.

This was it. Polar bears roamed around us, nightly meals of reindeer stew kept us strong for the next day of fieldwork, and towers of ice crashed in front of us as we documented the rapid melt of a glacier suffering from 21st century environmental pressures. The kid who had romped around Hermit Crab City in the early 1990’s would not have believed my 20 year-old self’s luck to have made it all the way to the top of the world, collecting glacial fingerprints.

Field research tested my physical limits, satiated my thirst for adventure and exploration, and gave my analytical side a chance to think deeply about complicated data. But as I graduated college, and spent the next year as a field assistant in the Australian Outback and then as a lab manager for geologists at Princeton University, I felt more energized talking about the work I was doing than I did actually processing samples and crunching data. As much as the ancient rocks fascinated me, they were still inanimate rocks at the end of the day, and I felt ever more compelled to share the stories of the rocks – and the scientists who studied them – with other human beings than I did spending days alone in the lab.

My path swerved back to Maine, where I spent the next year and a half teaching and writing about science for non-scientists. I started volunteering here at the Children’s Museum and Theatre, designed a website for a team of Geologists studying the ecological history of the Gulf of Maine, worked briefly as the assistant editor of the Maine State Climate Office’s newsletter, and as an educator at the Ferry beach Ecology School in Saco, ME.

As many professional paths do these days, my path swerved yet again, this time out to Santa Cruz, California where I spent a year in a graduate program for science journalism, writing for daily newspapers and popular science websites, digging deeper into the craft of engaging non-scientists with inspiring new scientific findings – this time on a much larger but less personal scale.

Now, as the Science Educator at the Children’s Museum and Theatre, I am so pleased to have the chance to share the world of science everyday with real live people. I continue to freelance write about scientific findings on the side, but am thrilled to come to the museum each day to get my hands mucky with tide pool creatures at our touch tank, examine ancient rocks from our museum collection, and explore the small ecosystem of our garden with curious visitors.

I am constantly energized by the tiny sparks we generate in little minds here at the museum — similar to those sparks that propelled me to explore Hermit Crab City and the world of science beyond — and look forward to helping foster a bright future of science exploration amongst our visitors and the local community!

Introducing Todd Richard, Our New Marketing Coordinator

todd_richard_risephotographyHello, my name is Todd, and I am the new kid around here.

I’ve recently started as the Marketing & Communications Coordinator at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, and I am thrilled to be here.

I love Portland, Maine and moved here as an adult 14 years ago, living here for quite a bit of my childhood. Alas, even though my father, brother, and son are natives, I am not.  I had moved up here looking for a vacation after the school I was teaching at went on summer break, thinking that if my students were to get a break, I should as well. If anyone should see that vacation anywhere around here, please let me know.

I’ve been active in performing arts, entertainment, and non-profit work for over 20 years, and have had the pleasure of working with and for many of Southern Maine’s greatest organizations and happenings. I’ve also enjoyed my work as a musician, and some of you may have been on a dance floor when I was DJing, or seen me on stage with my good friends the Don Campbell Band.

I first came to the Museum several years ago, when my niece and nephew were younger. “Uncle Todd” always got to do fun things with the kids, but I’ll admit, I was nervous. Nervous! Going to the Children’s Museum with my favorite kids in the world made me nervous. I became self-conscious, and very aware I was under-dressed, as the niece and nephew were decked out in full-on Star Wars regalia. I didn’t know my way around, and didn’t know what went on at the Children’s Museum. Would I be made to play games or do things I didn’t know how to do?

I was taking myself too seriously to even smile when the young woman at the front desk helped us. Upon entering the exhibits and starting to see how all the children became instantly at peace convicted me. Being a grownup and being taught humility by an exuberant pack of smiling and playing children was a huge moment in my life.

Children have not been taught such silly, circumstantial, and constricting ideas like the “right” way to look, or play, or enjoy. Adults cling to these factors long after they were ever introduced. Once I put down my camera, I was able to really enjoy the experience that Amelia and Ben were already having.

The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine has truly been conceived and designed to create a solid and safe place for families to have fun and educational experiences together. There are so many organized programs going on here daily and weekly, but I think you’ll find some of the most special moments come when you allow yourself to cease your planning and parenting for a moment, and let your child lead you in the play. You’ll find that even if you’re under-dressed without your lightsaber, your children will help you have fun, regardless.

I’m looking forward to connecting with all of you. Please feel free to email me, or stay in touch via our Facebook or Twitter.