CHATHAMPORT — In the past 18 years, volunteers have built the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center into a sought-after museum and a leader in STEM education in local schools. Now the nonprofit is hiring its first full-time executive director to help it achieve new growth.
Kristen Clothier of Chatham, who starts in her new post on Monday, has an infectious enthusiasm for science education and history. Seated in her office in the historic wireless operations building, she grins widely when she talks about the Marconi Center’s achievements and its potential.
It’s a natural fit for Clothier, who attended space camp as a kid, fell in love with biology and spent many hours in museums. The Marconi center sparks her own interest in hands-on learning about science and history, and she’s passionate about sharing those lessons with others. The center is a unique nonprofit located on a one-of-a-kind historic campus, and features exhibits that “engage people in very challenging concepts,” she said. The lessons have broad appeal both to schoolchildren learning about science, technology, engineering and math, and to adults who are simply curious about the wireless technology that’s all around them.
In fact, Clothier is keenly interested in building programs that spark inter-generational learning, where grandparents and their grandkids can explore history and science together.
“That really excites me,” she said.
Holding degrees from Yale, Clothier comes to the Marconi Center from the Cape Cod Commission, where she helped review important regional development projects and worked on Cape-wide planning initiatives designed to “keep a special place special,” she said. On weekends, she worked at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, teaching biology and ecology to visitors and managing staff and volunteers. In various other posts, she’s worked as a naturalist and teacher, a development professional and a natural resources planner.
“I’ve always worked for mission-driven organizations,” she said. And as a leader at the Marconi Center, Clothier sees a unique opportunity to be both a teacher and a capacity-builder.
“This is just a wonderful fit,” she said.
Clothier’s arrival marks an important milestone for the Marconi Center, board President Carolyn Cragin said.
“It’s remarkable how quickly the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center has grown from abandoned buildings to a nonprofit that’s very successful and gets a five-star rating from TripAdvisor,” she said. “We’re at a point where so many things are happening, and so many more can happen,” that the organization needs to make sure its growth is stable and sustainable, Cragin said. “That really requires more structure and leadership.”
The search for an executive director began in October and yielded a number of well qualified applicants from around this part of the state. Clothier was chosen from among two strong finalists for the position. “The fact that she lives right down the street was an interesting surprise,” Cragin said.
The position will be split equally between the museum and the educational program, she said. Key will be the expansion of the current “TechSmart” program, which last year offered STEM classes in the Monomoy schools, bringing the curriculum to schools around the Cape and Islands. The premise of the program is simple, Cragin said. “People rely so much on wireless technology, and many of us look to younger people to explain how to make it work,” she said. But traditional science education spends relatively little time explaining the mechanics of wireless communication, and using it to teach kids STEM at an early age can be a way to inspire more youngsters to consider careers in engineering and science, Cragin said.
“It has huge potential,” she said.
For the time being, Clothier said she will be focused on meeting with the Marconi Center’s volunteer leaders to learn the organization’s immediate priorities. In time, she hopes to help the organization build and expand programs and strengthen partnerships with other organizations whose missions match up with the Marconi Center’s. She said she’s honored to have been chosen as the group’s first full-time executive, and pleased to be working in Chatham, “a place I care about very deeply.”