Get to Know VP of Science Learning Renee Harmon

Get to Know VP of Science Learning Renee Harmon

By Taylor Soule

SCI: What drew you to the Science Center of Iowa?

Renee Harmon: I’ve long been a Greater Des Moines resident, and the Science Center of Iowa has been a pivotal part of my personal life. I remember as a child coming to the Science Center for my very first field trip, and my very first overnight experience was at the Science Center in the old facility. It made an impact on who I became. I am an educator at heart, and those experiences helped me develop my passion in science and science learning. 

SCI: Can you tell SCI visitors a little bit about your professional background?

RH: I’ve been in education for more than 20 years now. I started as a classroom teacher and have been in the classroom from birth through the middle school years in a variety of ways. I was a classroom teacher at the Downtown School, taught there for a significant amount of time and was the assistant principal there as well. Then, I took a path that led me to the Business Education Alliance, which is another nonprofit in our community focused on excellence in education. During that time, I was able to participate in delivering graduate classes through Drake University, as well as work with some other organizations on their work in education, including art as well as the Greater Des Moines Community Foundation. I’ve always been passionate about teaching and learning, and one of the things that’s most exciting to me as a teacher and a learner is the ability to make an impact in somebody’s life in a way you can’t predict. It’s an exciting experience to be a teacher and a learner during this time because what we know about teaching and learning is evolving as research continues.

SCI: What motivates you every day in your role as VP Science Learning?

RH: Education is absolutely in my blood, and what really motivates and guides me in life is just being able to make an impact — and in particular, an impact in the life of a child. I’m also a mom, so that is something that also guides me day to day. I have three amazing boys who love the Science Center, and that has also ignited a passion for me in the work that’s done here — seeing the Science Center through their eyes.

SCI: What’s a time you felt particularly in awe by the power of science?

RH: As a teacher, what inspires me about science has been seeing that children can be inspired to be creative and to think outside the box about how things work. When you are engaged with a child in an experiment or in research around science, they think creatively. They problem-solve and work collaboratively. One of my favorite things about being a teacher was allowing children to see that science isn’t about reading in a book or formulas — it’s about how you work together to solve problems, to really study through observation. That’s really powerful. And when you watch any child really think on a significant level about what they’re observing in their environment and think about how things react, it’s an amazing experience.

SCI: What’s been most challenging about your transition into the VP Science Learning role? 

RH: I think one of the most difficult things is to quickly gather knowledge about everything that’s happening here at the Science Center. What’s happening here is so plentiful that on a short-term basis, I’ve had the opportunity to see all the amazing things that are happening. So, getting a sense of all the work that we’re doing is amazing and again, inspiring.

SCI: What’s been the most rewarding aspect of your time at SCI so far?

RH: The most rewarding thing about working at the Science Center has been getting to know each of the individuals who work here and contribute to the mission of the Science Center of Iowa. Each person works very hard to contribute their passions and their talents to make things run here in a way that really serves our community. 

SCI: How do you hope to grow science learning at SCI?

RH: Of course, that is what I’m most excited about — looking at the core of work that we’re currently doing, evaluating how we’re servicing our community and designing and planning programs, experiences and opportunities for the entire community to get engaged with the Science Center.

SCI: Which SCI exhibit is your favorite and why?

RH: Currently, Making — the new Makers Studio because every day since the opening of the exhibit, I see children with lights flashing on their faces. They’re excited, and they’re getting to share with the Makers about what they’ve created, and they’re getting honored for their creation. They’re able to make connections in a way that I am able to see, with a huge amount of excitement. It’s delightful to walk through the exhibit and see that. It’s amazing to see and hear all those conversations surrounding the movement of Making. It’s amazing.

SCI: How does SCI’s mission to engage and inspire Iowans along their journey of lifelong science learning resonate with you?

RH: Because I’m a mom and an educator, I think on a practical level about all the great things that we do with our student population and for our families. But it really is bigger than that. It’s about reaching our entire community and seeing how science can come alive to them. To me, it’s about building connections within our community and a foundation of understanding about the importance of science in our lives. It’s inspiring.  

Category: General SCI