STEM Careers in Focus: Jacie Hood
We’re back with the third installment of our STEM Careers in Focus series. This time, Director of Experience and Innovation, Dustin Miller, didn’t have to go far at all: join him for an interview with the NEW Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden Program Manager, Jacie Hood.
Dustin Miller (DM): Hey Jacie, welcome to the Children’s Adventure Garden! Well, this isn’t actually a new place for you, right?
Jacie Hood (JH): That’s right! I actually got my start working with the Education Department in Fall of 2018 after coming outdoors from the science museum world. I’ve been serving as a Program Teacher with school and summer camp programs for two years before transitioning into this new role at the Arboretum.
DM: What areas of the garden did you most work in as program teacher? Are there any areas that surprised you now that your eyes are set on the whole site?
JH: I worked frequently in the Main Garden classrooms teaching as well as in the community for after-school programming. One spring, I was visiting four schools a week! And while I know that isn’t a part of the garden technically, it always felt like each school was a little extension of what we do. Back in the Children’s Adventure Garden, my favorite galleries that I taught in frequently were Plants are Alive, The Glade, and Pure Energy. I’m a very animated person and do theatre when I’m not teaching, so I love puppet shows in the Glade and working with young students in Plants Are Alive. Pure Energy hits my roots as a Maker and my love for teaching technology and engineering to students. I’ve been heavily involved in the Maker Movement for five years and teaching coding, robotics and engineering to kids for thirteen years now! Plus, it’s great teaching the next generation about the importance of renewable and sustainable energy sources for our future.
The big surprise for me has been learning more about the design of the Children’s Adventure Garden and the people involved in making it beautiful and educational. It’s been a delight in the past month to speak with previous employees and leaders of the RMCAG and see their passion and love for education and the garden. Hearing the history of how everything was created and how it has evolved is proving invaluable to learning how we can continue to grow. I’ve also been grateful to learn, even in small amounts, from Jenny Wegley (VP of Horticulture) and Jack Hardaway (Exhibit Technician). Jenny and the horticulture team do so much to keep the garden beautiful and accessible for learning. Jack has worked tirelessly to get the exhibit up and ready to run again once we open. So, oddly enough, I think my biggest surprise has been learning how excited I am to join this team now that I know even more people!
DM: Can you tell me a little bit more about your Maker roots?
JH: Sure! I’ve always been a very curious person and love learning how things work. I grew up crafting with my mother, building or repairing things with my father, and even built my first speakers in high school physics. Once I began my first job at the Science Spectrum Museum in Lubbock, Texas, I started assisting teaching classes with LEGO NXT Robotics. It was my first taste of robotics and coding, and I fell in love. I later learned about video game programming and took both programs to my work at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. There I also began a pop-up Makerspace in the museum and worked with Maker Ed out of San Jose, California, to help develop Makerspaces in rural and urban schools in the DFW and Waco areas. I also worked to infuse maker education throughout public programs and Innovation Studios, the gallery I managed. Throughout my time working at FWMSH, I also grew to love animatronics and coding even more through a partnership with Trinity Valley Schools and Dr. Ginger Alford. It was amazing to work with high tech tools I had never been exposed to before. At the same time, I also fell back in love with my low-tech roots, learning new skills like leathercrafting, chainmaille and textile weaving. I was grateful last year to bring my love of making to the Arboretum with our first ever Makers in the Garden summer camps! It was a great challenge and experience finding ways to connect the maker movement to outdoor education and natural science.
DM: So it sounds like your passion for the maker movement dovetails nicely with your theater work?
JH: That’s so true! I passionately enjoy being a jack of all trades. Doing theatre for almost two decades now, I’ve had to learn more than just acting. I also adore technical elements, such as scenic design & painting, set construction, costume design & construction and props designing. I’ve had to get very creative before coming up with ways to make seemingly impossible props. I once developed a way during a lighting project to utilize LEDs, copper tape, straws and an Arduino (a microcontroller you can code) to create flowers that looked clear but would light up with color at a specific point in a show. On the flip side, I’ve also been able to use my theatre experience with my museum and education work, like when I carved fake ice block walls for an exhibit I made for a live penguin enclosure!
DM: This sounds like great training for the Children’s Adventure Garden! Speaking of, while we don’t have a reopening date yet, can you share some of the programming that will still be around when we return?
JH: While I can’t wait for us to be able to learn together in person, there are plenty of wonderful programs we’re planning to engage families in the garden and even at home! Favorites like the Plant Lab and OmniGlobe in the Exploration Center will definitely still be on the calendar. Seating will be limited while we are social distancing, but we still want to maintain these amazing opportunities for learning. You’ll also be seeing more of the guided experiences in galleries around the Children’s Adventure Garden as well as puppet shows in The Glade! These are both great chances for learning while enjoying our outdoor spaces. I’m also trying to find ways to continue special events celebrating things like Autumn at the Arboretum, Hispanic Heritage Month, and Halloween & Dia de Muertos as well as developing live science shows you can check out on weekends. And finally, we’re looking at ways of making the garden accessible for students and families who may not be able to join us at this time. Virtual lessons and educational events are on their way, because I strongly believe in accessibility and equity so that STEAM education is for everyone!
Keep up-to-date with Children’s Adventure Garden happenings on our website.
Read our previous STEM Careers in Focus interviews:
Written by Dustin Miller, director of experience and innovation at the Dallas Arboretum