Kathy French’s interest in science began when she was a child.
“My father was a chemist,” said French, education coordinator for the University of Nebraska State Museum. “I loved science, loved biology.”
That lifelong interest paid off for French. On Sept. 28, the Nebraska Association of Teachers of Science awarded her the 2012 Catalyst Award for her contributions to informal science education.
She has worked at the natural history museum for 19 years and said she is passionate about getting kids to understand that Nebraska is a treasure.
“There’s a lot of wonderful history here,” French said. “Just if you walk outside there’s some wonderful things that are living here. I want kids to go outside more. Get away from the electronic screen. Get their hands dirty.”
As education coordinator, French said she is in charge of the outreach and education at the museum. She also ensures that all the museum’s gallery programs for schoolchildren meet the state science standards. French said the museum is a place for students to learn outside of the classroom.
“We work with giving them really good opportunities to have a good time and learn while they’re here,” French said. “And how often do you get to stand next to a mammoth?”
Prior to working at the museum, French was the education coordinator for the Lincoln Children’s Zoo, where she founded its education department. She credits this experience to fueling her interest in science education.
“That was kind of getting my feet wet in informal science education,” French said. “I just really enjoyed the interaction with the children. My underlying mantra was, ‘Have the kids learn by having fun.’”
French said she designs what goes into the Marx Discovery Center, a hands-on learning room at the museum. She also works with teachers for professional development training.
“Kathy is the museum’s ambassador to Nebraska’s school teachers, and I am thrilled that NATS has recognized her with this marvelous award,” said Priscilla Grew, the museum’s director, in a university press release.
French encouraged university students to visit the museum, located on campus at 645 N. 14th St.
“The museum is just an amazing place,” French said. “It’s just a real treasure, it really is. It’s a pretty nice place to have to come to work.”