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InterSection The magazine of the National Association for Interpretation’s Sections

Interpretive Exhibits

Volume 1, Number 1 February 2012

NAI Sections Visit for more information. P.O. Box 2246 Fort Collins, CO 80522 888-900-8283 toll-free 970-484-8283 970-484-8179 fax

board of directors


Executive Committee Amy Lethbridge, President Cem Basman, VP for Administration John C.F. Luzader, VP for Programs Amy Burnett, Secretary Theresa Coble, Treasurer

Cultural Interpretation/Living History

At-Large Representatives K.C. DenDooven David Knotts Mike Whatley

CUA (featured on page 4)

Region Leadership Council Representatives Tom Mullin (Chair) Kevin Damstra Chuck Lennox John Miller Section Leadership Council Representatives Travis Williams (Chair) Jane Beattie Todd Bridgewater Duane Fast staff Tim Merriman, Executive Director Lisa Brochu, Associate Director Paul Caputo, Art & Publications Director Jamie King, Membership Manager Deborah Tewell, Events Manager Beth Bartholomew, Business Manager Carrie Miller, Certification Program Specialist Lou Anderson, Administrative Assistant NAI’s mission is to inspire leadership and excellence to advance heritage interpretation as a profession. Interpretation is a mission-based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the meanings inherent in the resource.




Council for the Interpretation of Native Peoples College and University Academic

EE (featured on page 36)

Environmental Education

IM (featured on page 8)

Interpretive Media

IN (featured on page 10)

Interpretive Naturalist

INTL (featured on page 12)

International Interpretation


Interpretation and Tourism

NCDA (featured on pages 16 and 26)

Nature Center Directors/Administrators

ZWPA (featured on pages 30, 32, and 34) Zoos, Wildlife Parks, and Aquaria


InterSection Volume 1, Number 1 February 2012


An Evaluation of Exhibit Effectiveness at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Dr. Dave Smaldone, Dr. Theresa Coble, Catherine McCarthy, Tammy Roberson, and Sandy Strickland

8 IM

The Heart Endures Dominic Cardea

10 IN

Exhibits: The Good, the Bad, and the Experience

Luetta Coonrod


Interpretive Exhibit Planning Essentials

Duane Fast

ON THE COVER: Split Rock Studios artist Gina Louise at work creating a fallen pine tree. See the story on page 26.


One Good Idea Plus One Good Donor Equals One Great Opportunity!

Travis Williams


Adventures in Exhibits Randy Smith


Exhibits at the Taronga Zoo

Allison Price


The Cross-Pollination of Nature and History Sites

Amy Dee Stephens


Home on the Range

Laura Beers

36 EE

Why the Environmental Education Section is Important to Me

Faith Duncan

National Association for Interpretation



An Evaluation of Exhibit Effectiveness at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site

Dr. Dave Smaldone, Dr. Theresa Coble, Catherine McCarthy, Tammy Roberson, & Sandy Strickland



In 1957, Little Rock Central High School (CHSC—now a National Historic Site) became the symbol of the end of racially segregated public schools in the United States. It was the site of the first real test of the United States Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that ruled “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The story of the “Little Rock Nine,” the nine African-American students who chose to attend the formerly all-white Central High School, reveals the power individuals have to make a difference. This project evaluated the exhibits of the new CHSC Visitor Center to assess their effectiveness with respect to visitor interpretive connections, meaning making, accessibility, and civic engagement. During 2009–2010, a team of researchers observed and conducted onsite interviews and focus groups, and then conducted follow-up phone interviews with visitors to CHSC in Little Rock, Arkansas. This brief introduction to the study will highlight key findings from the evaluation, and provide suggestions for interpretive managers. The visitors who were observed onsite in July 2009 spent an average of 53 minutes viewing the exhibits, with a median time spent of 36 minutes. This finding is important because other visitor center studies have often found that visitors do not spend that much time viewing exhibits. Visitors will spend lengthy periods of

The story of the “Little Rock Nine,” the nine AfricanAmerican students who chose to attend the formerly all white Central High School, reveals the power individuals have to make a difference.

time viewing and experiencing exhibits if the exhibits provoke them, provide opportunities to find relevance, and offer engaging interactive experiences. In particular, audio and video oral histories led to positive short- and long-term visitor impacts. Results suggest that the exhibits functioned to

Oral history stations encourage social interactions between visitors.

“reveal, relate, and provoke,” facilitating powerful intellectual and emotional connections to the meanings and significance of the people, events, and ideas portrayed in exhibits. All visitors experienced one or more emotions while viewing the exhibits and 75% said they had learned something new or understood the issues better. Almost 70% reflected on a personal life experience (thus finding relevancy in the exhibits), and 28% said they hoped to change or increase their civic behavior as a result of their visit. The exhibits provided opportunities to link discussions of race relations to specific historical events and social contexts, while prompting reflection on present day needs and issues. Respondents formed a wide range of meanings while onsite; however, results suggest that respondents emphasized meanings and themes related to courage, empathy, equality and diversity.

Respondents experienced an array of emotions while onsite. Some exhibits graphically conveyed the “dark times” that the civil rights movement in the U.S., using iconic photos and disturbing videos to showcase the hatred unleashed on the Little Rock Nine. Respondent comments suggest that their own feelings of outrage or empathy were cathartic and possibly transformational, allowing them to “grow beyond themselves” through their exhibit experience. By portraying ideas, images, and events that provoked negative emotions, the exhibits facilitated visitor questioning and even soul-searching—an important implication for all interpreters. One year later, phone interviews conducted with some of the same visitors found that the majority continued to note similar emotional and intellectual connections to resource

National Association for Interpretation


A young visitor interacts with an oral history station.

meanings, and indicated that they continued to find personal relevance in the exhibits. Three exhibit elements in particular continued to exert an influence one year later, including iconic photographs, panels on human rights, and oral history recordings of the Little Rock Nine. Respondents also suggested that CHSC promoted civic engagement by prompting awareness and reflection, and the story of the Nine provided encouragement to continue civic behaviors. Thus one year later, visitors continued to find meaning and relevance in the site’s stories. Based on study results, a conceptual model entitled “A Five-tier Hierarchy of the Antecedents of Civic Engagement” was developed. The hierarchy is composed of five levels: awareness, reflection, behavioral intentions, ownership, and empowerment. Results suggest that CHSC exhibits can promote civic engagement outcomes “from scratch” at the awareness, reflection, and behavioral intentions levels. Results also suggest that exhibits primarily enhanced pre-existing levels of ownership and empowerment. In order to move visitors to higher levels of civic engagement, it is recommended that sites like CHSC plan interpretive opportunities that allow visitors to gain knowledge of not only potential civic engagement behaviors, but also allow visitors to practice putting that knowledge into action onsite, and then offsite. We recommend



Conversation Analysis Excerpt: Family Members React with Surprise Respondent 35: Oh my goodness. I didn’t know they’d been around that long. Ku Klux Klan, 1577. That’s ridiculous. Respondent 36: Mom! Mom! Look at this. The doll test. It shows a study that black children have a lower self esteem than white children and they chose the white doll as the pretty or nice one and the black doll as the bad one. Respondent 35: Mmm. Respondent 36: That’s weird.

using Westheimer and Kahne’s (2004) citizenship typology, the NPS Scholar Forum report (NPS Conservation Study Institute with Diamant, Feller & Larsen, 2006) and our fivetier hierarchy as the basis for formulating a more complete civic engagement strategy, both at CHSC and elsewhere.

A variety of exhibits are available for visitors.

Assessing CHSC exhibit accessibility was accomplished almost exclusively through focus groups with members of the disability community in Little Rock, because while all onsite interviews included questions regarding exhibit accessibility, no visitors raised concerns. The consensus among disabled participants or disability rights advocates was that the majority of the exhibits were fairly accessible to all visitors. However, respondents identified a number of issues that limited exhibit accessibility or hindered visitors’ ability to understand exhibit content. Accessibility recommendations include potentially replacing some of the carpet tiles with visual markers to benefit all visitors in need of a route through the exhibits. Small text within computer-based interactives could be redone in a larger font, and navigational aids at listening stations could be

added. Adjustments in lighting and audio levels in certain exhibits could also provide benefits to all visitors, not just those with accessibility concerns. In summary, this study suggests that the exhibits’ ability to reveal, relate, and provoke may be a function of personally relevant content, compelling images and the use of multi-sensory interactive exhibits. These critical exhibit aspects also continued to connect and impact visitors one year later. Finally, provoking negative emotions is not only appropriate, but may be critical to telling some stories and facilitating deep meaning making. For more information and evaluation details, please see the full report at: evaluate/CHSCreport.pdf.

National Association for Interpretation



The Heart Endures

Dominic Cardea



The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia (online at is dedicated to creating passion for learning about science and technology. One of their iconic exhibits—since 1954—is the giant walk-through heart model. The heart is two stories high—the largest walk-through heart in the country—and would be the accurate size for a 220-foot tall person. Our family visited last weekend. People were all running as fast as they could through the heart, a clogged and constant stream of screaming, tripping, and laughing. I asked my son what he had just been through. He responded that it was an obstacle course. Did he understand that the model was a heart? “I guess.” was his response. He informed me that I was keeping him from running through again. Off he went. He and his sister must have gone through the heart 15 times. The pace of the museum is frenetic. On the surface the exhibitory contributed to a positive learning experience meeting the mission of the museum. People were going from exhibit to exhibit and interacting with them. If there was a ratio of visitors to exhibit interaction—some sort of metric for buttons pushed, it would be showing that things were going well. But how successful was that experience? I watched many children (including mine) run up to the high-tech interactive exhibits and push every button repeatedly, sometimes all at once.

Many of the exhibits were broken (for obvious reasons), but the levers and buttons were still being pushed. Whole sections of the heart exhibit room were “temporarily closed” due to mechanical or electronic malfunction. Yet they still came and most were laughing and carrying on. Now comes the part where I am conflicted.

I think that my families experience was fun and engaging. I also do not think we learned a lot about the heart, science, or technology. The museum definitely provided access to technology and science in a nonthreatening way—so that is a win! My kids will want to go back. Through repeated adventures, they might also realize that they learned some things. However, in many regards I think this learning would be in spite of the museum exhibits. Especially the “high-tech” shiny interactives that were inevitably out of order. Match your media to your message! We need to be reminded of this and in this case the media is the exhibitry. Worn, overly produced, fragile, or complex exhibits block the message we wish to share about the topic or theme we are trying to communicate. They may be state of the art, but not very good at communication. In fact they are communicating other things like it is okay to abuse exhibits. The push-button “screened media” was out of order about 25% of the time. Other tech-driven exhibits were asking questions and waiting for engaged responses that demanded attention for more than 60 seconds. These were treated as the exhibit equivalent of “whack a mole” which contributed to their faster demise. Which brings me back to the giant heart. This thing has been around for 58 years! The analog lights and audio recording on eight-track were upgraded to digital in 2004, but the basic design has not changed. It is immersive and sometimes subtle (the wind from the lungs for instance was lost on most people). If I were to be über cynical, I would say my kids learned the value of their hearts by getting aerobic exercise as they ran through the two-story model. Being kinder, I think the model did give them some clues about the heart’s structure as space opened and closed inside the model. I also think it was a threedimensional experience that was more enriching than a static 2D poster or book. I think the best thing the exhibit did was to encourage exploration in things my daughter refers to as “eeeewww” and demystifies some of the things that society has thrown up barriers to for little girls. I do not think any of these were intended design features. Ironically, my kids are getting conditioned to learning about technology in a very low-tech fashion—perhaps we can learn from these exhibits after all. The heart endures…so to speak.

A Side Note One exhibit room by Franklin Institute, the walk-through heart, is dedicated to medical technology and heart care. There was a mock open-heart surgery going on—with all the surgical instruments in displays and a “patient” on a low surgical table with a video screen for a chest showing a recording of an actual surgery… in detail. “There,” I thought, “lies the Interpretive Media Section for NAI.” Metaphorically we are on the table. The section is on life support and looking straight at the open heart. Last November, the section was informed that it was out of compliance with NAI section regulations and subject to being dissolved. Anemic member participation was the diagnosis. A triage team was formed and surgery begun. The new exec committee is dedicated to getting the section back on its feet, then letting it walk on its own. The initial surgery was a success, and we are a viable section—however we need new blood! If you are interested in serving on the recovery team—as a contributor to the newsletter, or leading a work group, or just finding out more consider participating in the Interpretive Media Section. Contact Dominic Cardea at 215597-5373 or We will be having our first round table phone call in mid February. Check the SPARK, the IM section blog at www.

National Association for Interpretation




The Good, the Bad, and the Experience

Luetta Coonrod

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When and where I grew up, going to a museum wasn’t an option; they just weren’t there to visit. My only experience in a museum as a child was a field trip to the Museum of Science and Industry when I was in fourth grade. It was a typical, forced march through the “right” exhibits, then back on the bus in order to make it back to school on time. Needless to say, the two and a half hours in the bus both ways didn’t exactly help make this a positive experience. Jump ahead ten years, and I have my next museum experience. I was in college, and two of my professor friends invited me to the Field Museum with their family. Thank you, Dick and Barb; you changed my life. Growing up in a small town, books were how I viewed the world outside my daily routine. Suddenly, I had a whole new perspective on life and my place in it. We spent the bulk of the day exploring the various exhibits, and I couldn’t get enough. I had never seen so many amazing things, and I wanted to absorb every one of the signs. There was so much to learn; I felt a new universe had just appeared in front of me. Since that fateful day, I have experienced exhibits from a variety of roles and viewpoints. I have visited exhibits at museums, zoos, living history sites, and natural areas; I’ve been a visitor, a student, a teacher, a parent, and an interpreter. The exhibits have been as simple as taxidermy specimens on the floor

Everyone has seen good exhibits; they are well laid out, they make sense, and they are inviting. They teach us something, without making us feel like we’re less for not having known the message.

of a pre-fabricated shed, and as elaborate as internationally renowned exhibits in places such as the Field Museum. Some have been good, some have been bad, and some are all about the experience. Each one has a special place in my memories. Everyone has seen good exhibits; they are well laid out, they make sense, and they are inviting. They teach us something, without making us feel like we’re less for not having known the message. Bad exhibits are like biting

into a piece of tainted food; the shock sticks with us long after the journey is completed. What ties the two together, good or bad, is the experience. The experience we have within an exhibit can change us, in unexpected ways. The experience is what makes an exhibit memorable. If we have a positive one, we will retain the message; if it’s negative, we try to forget the time as quickly as possible. Technology has dramatically changed exhibit design, but that can be seen from two perspectives. Push buttons and auditory messages are wonderful ways to involve the audience, especially those who learn in nonvisual ways. However, if the buttons don’t work properly, visitors get frustrated. If they tune out the message because the auditory isn’t functioning, we’ve lost them. Designers are great for bringing an exhibit to life, but they can only portray the message we ask them to send. We, as interpreters and the experts on our mission, are the ones who are ultimately responsible for reaching our audience with the vision we want them to have. Experience is more than whether the design is good or bad; it’s about how people feel about the exhibit when they leave the site. Are they intrigued? Do they want to know more about what they saw? Do they talk with their family and friends, debating the content or the signage? If these things happen, then we have reached our audience through our exhibit. Do your visitors experience your exhibit or do they just shuffle mindlessly through it? Truly interactive exhibits engage the brain as much as the body. They don’t have to have the latest bells and whistles to be effective; they need to connect the visitor to the message. Emotions are a provocative way to do that; effective exhibits touch a chord within the audience. Remembering what it’s like to be a child, being awed by the immensity of a life-size blue whale; these exhibits resonate with their viewers, and the experience is what they will remember.

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Interpretive Exhibit Planning Essentials Duane Fast

Mind games at the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum.

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” —Alan Lakein An interpretive exhibition can be a major undertaking for any institution. A successful project relies on a skillfully prepared combination of fun and education presented in a compelling and interesting fashion. Due to the complexity of the undertaking, however, enormous amounts of time and money can be wasted in non-productive pursuits and the resulting disappointing exhibitions. There is a cure, however. As in most things in life, planning is everything. Interpretive exhibit planning essentials: 1) Define the purpose of the exhibition.

There are some crucial questions that you have to ask yourself before beginning any planning. These questions will help to focus everything that follows. • Is the motivation behind creating the exhibit primarily to inform or to entertain? I know it’s probably a bit of both, but which one is more important? Is it an informational exhibit that uses a bit of entertainment or an entertaining exhibit that hopes to leave people with a little bit of information? • What is the exhibit trying to achieve? What is the message that you want people to leave with? Are you trying to change popular

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perceptions, alter behavior patterns, or inform about a topic? • Is the audience you are trying to reach adults, school kids, toddlers, or everyone? Are they primarily a rural or urban audience? Are they regular visitors or one-time attendees?

Beluga exhibit at the Vancouver Aquarium

2) Establish the logistical details.

There are some hard, cruel facts that will have a major impact on your exhibition and cannot be ignored. • The budget for the exhibition will determine the scope of the project. Create some realistic budgets and check the figures with your favorite vendors and consultants. Even a small error here can create a big problem down the line. • Timelines are critical as well. When can the exhibit planning begin? When does it have to be completed? Is it feasible? • People wrangling is also important. Is everyone who is necessary to the successful outcome of the project available during those times? Are there acceptable alternates for

those that are not available? Does everyone buy in to the idea? 3) Develop a theme and storyline.

If you’ve come this far, you probably already have a pretty good idea of what you want to talk about. Now it’s time to refine those ideas into one overall theme (not two, not three—just one). The storyline will of course follow the theme carefully (and not stray along divergent paths, no matter how interesting they may be). 4) Create a set of standards.

These standards will be used to guide all of your choices. Every aspect of the exhibition should be judged by these standards. Be tough, if any item on the agenda doesn’t meet all of your criteria, trash it.

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Kids love the Turtle Bay Nature Center.

Ningxia Science Center

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• Relevance—does every aspect of the exhibition aid in telling the theme story? • Accessible—can everyone understand it or only certain age or educational groups? Is it useable by people with disabilities? • Recognition—can people relate to the message in a personal way? • Educational—can the visitor learn something new and does it inspire them to learn more? • New & Exciting—will it make everyone want to try it or is it technology for the sake of technology? • Useable—is it easy to use or difficult to figure out? • Durable—is it tough or will it break down (how much maintenance, how difficult and/or expensive to perform, what type of specialists are required, what is their availability and cost)? Are the materials appropriate for the task? Is the design robust enough? Or is it over-designed for the purpose? • Appropriate—does it fit visually into the environment in which it will be placed? Does it fit in with the rest of the exhibit? • Cost effective—does the visitor impact warrant the cost? • Sustainability—are all of the production methods and materials environmentally friendly and fair trade?

As many of you already know there is a new website available for interpreters who belong to recognized interpretive associations. It is a collaboration between all of the world’s interpretive associations. International Interpretation is an inclusive community of people around the world who are involved in the interpretation of natural and cultural heritage. Its aim is to widen awareness and understanding of good practice in interpretation and to stimulate debate and cooperation across all borders and boundaries. International Interpretation provides a non-aligned ground for disseminating news, discussing ideas, sharing research and forming teams of likeminded interpreters. We invite all NAI members to participate in this venture. There is no cost to sign up. Share your thoughts, ideas, questions, and answers with others. Download research documents. Check out what’s happening around the globe. Your help is needed to expand the world of interp. Log-on to and signup. Then you can access all of the features—including an international calendar of interpretive events, an interp news section, a discussion forum, a research database, a multilingual research section, an area with links to other interp websites, and a section that connects professionals for team building, collaboration, or jobs. The website is also available in over 50 languages.

Setting standards to guide choices when planning interpretive exhibits can provide a useful analysis tool that should result in a more meaningful experience for the visitors, a less stressful experience for the planners and a more cost-effective experience for the accountants.

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One Good Idea Plus One Good Donor Equals One Great Opportunity!

Travis Williams

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Signs and exhibits are often one of the most costly and challenging aspects of developing a nature preserve or building. Engaging a visitor with a visually stimulating sign can provide just as powerful a message as a front-line interpreter’s program. For many organizations, especially those that operate on a small budget, it can be a struggle to gather the necessary resources for producing quality wayside exhibits or signs. Even if an organization has the funds to produce a quality set of signs and exhibits, the cost involved often leads to static displays and exhibits that go unchanged for years due to the lack of funds for upgrading or replacement. In 2005 at the NAI National Workshop in Mobile, Alabama, a team from Glacier National Park presented a concurrent session on sign development. The Glacier team had established a system for fabricating their own signs. The system allowed for low-cost, high-quality sign production that could be completely managed and developed by the interpreter. Sarah Reding, Vice President of Conservation Stewardship at Kalamazoo Nature Center, attended the session and ended up giving me all of the handouts, including the how-to DVD created by the Glacier team. She challenged me to get a similar operation up and running in Holland, Michigan. After some deliberation and material review I called the presenters at Glacier National Park and discussed the potential of setting

up a similar system at the Outdoor Discovery Center. They were very open in sharing details and information on where they purchased the equipment and materials needed to manufacture signs. They also shared some tips and tricks behind the process. With their encouragement we decided to make the investment and move forward. Soon after this conversation I worked with my team at the Outdoor Discovery Center to craft a proposal detailing the costbenefit analysis of purchasing the equipment and materials to begin producing our own interpretive signs. We assessed the cost savings that could be obtained by producing our own signs, and the ongoing benefits and uses of having this sort of system. In addition, we developed a partnership program that would allow us to bring in additional users of the sign system in order to generate new revenue for our organization. With one particular donor in mind who really likes entrepreneurial thinking, I quickly set up a meeting and made the request for financial support to purchase the system. The donor liked what he saw and challenged me back to find three to four partners who would actually pay a partnership fee to use the system. If I could generate $5,000 through partnerships, the remaining $10,000 needed would be donated. After making proposals to several potential

The Center’s Birds of Prey Education Facility features large panels on the adaptations of raptors, as well as individual signs for each bird housed there.

partners, we soon had four groups who paid $1,500 each to join. All partners were given incentives including a number of free signs to produce and a reduced ongoing cost for using the equipment. We promised to house the equipment, keep all consumables in stock, maintain a computer and access to the sign printing system, and as the owners, we would provide all the maintenance and upkeep of the system. With a private donor supporting the purchase, partners buying into the system, and a clear plan for use, we purchased the nearly $15,000 of equipment and materials needed to begin our internal sign fabrication program. Without question, this has been one of the best business decisions we have made in our organization’s 12-year existence.

The Equipment and System

In order to have the sign manufacturing system up and running, the following equipment and materials are required:

• HP DesignJet 5500 42" Printer (UV, water proof ink) • 48" Hydraulic Roller Press • Cutting Board and Cutting Materials • Metal straight edge • 100+ PSI Air Compressor • Computer with some version of design software • Colorfast Vinyl • UV Clear Laminate • HP UV pigmented ink

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Signs can be printed and hung in sign frames in a matter of minutes.

How it works

The 42-inch printer we have accommodates all our wayside signs and interpretive displays. The HP Designjet series has printers that can print up to 104 inches wide.

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With any sign, the layout and design is the crucial part. Thankfully we have a very talented artist on our staff who not only works as an interpretive naturalist but also serves as our media specialist. Dylana Eisaman has been a member of our team for over two years and is responsible for managing our sign fabrication system. She is very proficient in the use of Adobe Creative Suite 4, the design software we use for creating our interpretive signage and displays. When we decide we need a sign, our staff gets together and discusses the needs and intentions for the interpretive panel. Once sketches and research are completed, Dylana takes the proposed plans and drafts a sign panel using our CS4 software. When the sign graphic is finalized, it is converted to a PDF file and printed on the Colorfast Adhesive Vinyl. The limitations in our system are directly related to the print size of the HP 5500 Design Jet Printer. We have a 42-inch printer and the rolls of vinyl media are 42"x50'. So our signs have a limitation of about 40" on one side. After a sign is printed, the excess border material is trimmed off using a utility knife and straight-edge. The colorfast vinyl is an adhesive product; the backing can be easily peeled off and the vinyl can be applied to any smooth surface. Once the sign is trimmed to the size of the sign backer we use a hydraulic roller press that places

100 PSI of pressure on the vinyl media as it is rolled out over the sign surface. A piece of clear UV laminate is then applied over the vinyl to seal the sign. The finished product has a high-quality look and feel. Although not vandal-proof, it is UV and weather-proof. We have signs that have been installed at the Outdoor Discovery Center for five years. They have survived through our four-season Michigan weather and look the same as they did the day we installed them. How has our organization put the system to use?

Our sign system is used to manufacture a wide variety of display and exhibit items. Signs, posters, plaques, banners, vehicle magnets, and display boards are all common items we produce using the system. We regularly use the printer to create fundraising materials for special events, displays for our welcome center building, trail markers, and wayside signage throughout our nature preserve. The inexpensive nature of the product and the in-house production process also allows us to change a sign as needed. Seasonal signage, exhibits, and promotional materials can be created in a manner of minutes. Given the rapidly changing environment that we all work in these days, having a flexible and proactive system for making signs and exhibit materials is crucial. The quality of the signs produced is directly related to the quality of the graphics and content used to make the signs, as well as the skill of the person doing the design work. You cannot get a great finished product if you do not have quality resources to help with the development. At the Outdoor Discovery Center we have signs that were both produced by a professional design firm (embedded fiber glass and highpressure laminate) and signs produce by our staff. Regularly, visitors will go out of their way to tell us how the signs we created on our internal system are much better than those we paid hundreds of dollars to have produced by an interpretive design firm.

Our signs can be custom designed to fit a specific space. This interactive “How Tall are You?� sign depicts animals relevant to our site, and takes full advantage of a narrow area.

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The quality of the printing with the HP Designjet allows both drawings and photographs to have good resolution.

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We create signs tailored to answer the questions asked most often by visitors.

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The sign system has allowed the creation of specialized signs specific to the wildlife found on the ODC Nature Preserve.

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Not all signs need to be square! The arch of this sign accents the vaulted ceiling in the room where it is displayed.

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All three of these signs at our main entrance were done in-house. Thanks to the low cost of sign production, our “Upcoming Events” sign can be changed every couple weeks. The plastic backing allows the vinyl to be easily removed and the plastic can be reused for the next sign.

Cost of making a sign

We use an aluminum backer on most of our signs. It is 1/8 inch thick and comes in 4'x8' sheets. A local steel fabrication company has been very generous at supporting our efforts and donated most of the aluminum. They also sheer the material to the exact size we need. We have also mounted signs on a variety of plastic materials. Our preference, due to the thickness and durability, is the aluminum. The basic raw material costs for producing a sign are as follows: • Aluminum: $220 per 4'x8' sheet (aluminum prices fluctuate) • Colorfast Adhesive Vinyl: $143.50 per 50' roll • UV Laminate: $106.50 per 150' roll • HP UV Pigmented Ink: $275 each color (6-color printer) = $1,650

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• UP Print Heads: $150 each color (6-color printer) = $900 It is hard to calculate the exact cost of printing a sign. The ink cost varies depending on the sign graphics and size. But generally, we can produce a 24"x36" interpretive panel mounted on aluminum for about $35 per sign or about $.04 per square inch. Our annual operating cost for the machine, outside of purchasing the consumable materials, is minimal. We pay a local printer maintenance company about $150 annually to service the printer. The purpose for the service visit is a general cleaning and maintenance of the machine. We also have to keep a cutting board and utility knife (with replacement blades) available.

Generating Revenue with the Sign System

We have taken full advantage of the sign system to not only produce our own interpretive products, but also to help other community organizations. As mentioned earlier, we do have several groups that have paid to be a partner in the use of the system. They are given 30 feet of printing free on the machine and pay $.05/ square inch after that. They are given full access to the system including the use of our design software. Today, if an organization wants to become a sign partner, we allow them to join our collaborative group for $1,500. We also have several community groups, businesses, and organization that have paid us to produce sign panels for them. As the community has become more aware of our ability to produce signs, we have been able to turn the sign printing system into a very profitable revenue center for the Outdoor Discovery Center. In 2011 we did almost $20,000 of sign-printing business on the system. While this is not a huge revenue generator, it covers all of our costs for maintaining and operating the system. It also gives us a nice revenue source for meeting all of our own sign needs. Without question, the purchase of the sign system has been one of our best business moves. We are grateful for the Glacier National Park team’s willingness to share ideas. This was a good one! Having this resource housed in our administrative office facility at the Outdoor Discovery Center has proven to be a real game changer. We have hired staff with graphic art skills to improve the overall use and productivity of the sign system resources. Yes, it has truly changed how we operate. We are certainly pleased with the investment as the benefits are numerous. We would encourage others to think outside of the box on how they can do things just a little differently as the rewards can be great.

On the Road Again

Plans are being finalized for the 2012 Interpreter’s Road Show, a pre-workshop tour held Monday and Tuesday, November 12–13, 2012. The tour is offered as a professional development opportunity that includes time to go behind the scenes at each of these locations and talk with staff to learn how they manage volunteers, programs, building and facility development, master planning, funding development, exhibits, and much more. Participants discuss “hot topics” selected by themselves during the group’s round table discussion. The Road Show is a great place to network and learn from fellow NAI interpreters and administrators. This opportunity is open to all interpreters and provides a unique look at a variety of interpretive properties. We strive to showcase four to five different properties—small, large, private, nonprofit, local, state, and federal properties. The Road Show fee covers transportation, entrance fees, dinner Monday night, and lunch both days. Participants are responsible for their lodging Monday night in the hotel of their choice for the conference and their own breakfasts. We hope you can join us this ear for a fantastic tour!

For more information on the sign system, contact the Outdoor Discovery Center at 616-393-9453 or Travis Williams at

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Adventures in Exhibits

Randy Smith Sandy Creek Nature Center Athens, Georgia

After spending a large part of my time over the past three years shepherding four new professionally designed and constructed exhibits into our interpretive center, I thought I could offer some advice. Development and creation of interactive and educational exhibit spaces in our facilities is a rewarding and challenging undertaking. Well-designed exhibits add an important facet to our ability to make connections between our visitors and the mission of our places and spaces. Here are some recommendations I have for a successful outcome. This article will primarily discuss process and some things to think about. If you would like more information about how we determined concepts and got the exhibits done, please let me know. What Do You Want?

We did a lot of planning prior to this project and had a concept plan for a cycle of exhibits both existing and future. We spent several months in meetings and planned for an eventual exhibit expansion prior to receiving funding for the project. If you have an interpretive master plan, it can help you make critical decisions about exhibit types, outcomes, and expectations. If you don’t have a plan it is imperative that you begin the process. To prepare for successful exhibits, we determined what we wanted as outcomes for

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visitors. One of the cardinal principles at our center is that all educational efforts point to the outdoors—we want people to go outside. Any exhibits designed had to directly relate to our property, a visitor’s home, or something that they could take away from the experience as part of the outdoor environment. Do the exhibits support walk-in visitors, formal education programs, school-based learning, intergenerational age groups, and diverse populations? Maybe the exhibits are purposefully focused on a specific group—you need to decide ahead of time. We also determined that we wanted all exhibits to be as interactive as possible, mostly low-tech, and have few barriers for visitors. The exhibits also had to match or complement our current exhibitions. What Can You Afford?

We would all like to have everything we want, but reality sets in and we have to focus on exhibits that are affordable and sustainable. What will be the lifecycle of the exhibits? Expectations on replacement or updating them are important to consider. With increasing levels of complexity and interactivity, the price usually goes up. Don’t forget to include maintenance and replacement costs. Which staff members/volunteers are going to take care of the new exhibits, repair, and upgrade them? Here’s a useful link to a survey by MuseumPlanner that can give you some

ballpark figures on exhibit types, expenses, and more. Can you get support for the project in form of grants, in-kind donations, or marketing opportunities? If so, you may be able to expand your scope. Be sure to plan for overages and unexpected expenses—they will happen! What Resources Can You Provide & Making a Choice

Exhibit design, fabrication, installation, and management are big jobs. Even with a great exhibit design firm selected, you will have your hands full managing contracts and assuring a positive outcome. Being a government facility, we were fortunate enough to have the services of our purchasing department and a project management firm as partners to create a request

for proposal (RFP) for our job and to do project management. If you don’t have these resources available (or even if you do), you will and should spend a lot of time in this undertaking. Someone has to keep everything in motion and on time, and ensure that contractual obligations are met. There are lots of good firms represented in the NAI Green Pages. http://www.interpnet. com/resources_interp/greenpages. Staff/volunteer/stakeholder time is critical to get a good project. We created a user group to assist in the selection of a firm to design and build our exhibits. The user group successfully selected an excellent company based on a written proposal and presentation. Checking references of prospective firms is very important and will help you make a good choice. Visits to other facilities and observation of current work by firms can also help.

Exhibit installation at Sandy Creek Nature Center.

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Exhibit flow diagram for planning.

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Design Process

A good design firm is all about good communication. You should expect to be a large part of planning from concept to installation if you want a good product that is specific to your site. Our user group spent hundreds of hours working with our design firm approving concepts, graphic panels, and educational objectives. From conference calls to SmartBoard design sessions, we constantly were in contact with our exhibit company. We also conducted two site visits to their workshop to view exhibit components under different stages of construction. In a lot of ways, you get what you put into the process, and what you pay for. You can cut corners, be less involved, and expect them to do all of the work, and you’ll get a more generic product that may not be what you expected. Take copious notes. Accurately record what

you have agreed to and dismissed—if you don’t there will be misunderstandings and worse yet, expensive change orders. Both parties must be willing to work together and solve problems and find innovative solutions. You are the client and the design firm should cater to your needs within reason. Installation and Beyond

Once everything is ready and installed, be sure to get all warranty information, documentation, manuals, maintenance schedules, and backup copies of everything. Get to know the installers and the technicians that you’ll need to contact in the future when things break or need renovation. Test everything and note any issues. A good company will gladly provide these things and will provide a functional warranty period and support. Be sure your punch list and concerns

are addressed before final payment and acceptance of exhibits. This is just a short list of suggestions of things you can do to make an exhibit creation and installation process work for you. Ours took almost three years from start to finish—about 2,500 square feet of exhibition space with a $1.8 million budget. We should be opening the new exhibit hall late this winter or early spring. If you would like more information on specific exhibits we created or anything else related, I can be reached at randy.smith@ Our exhibit design firm is Split Rock Studios. http://www. We also have photos of the exhibits on our Facebook page for Sandy Creek Nature Center.

95% design documents provided by Split Rock Studios.

National Association for Interpretation 29


Exhibits at the Taronga Zoo

Allison Price

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On my recent trip to Australia, I saw so many wonderful sights: the Blue Mountains, the Great Barrier Reef, the Sydney Opera House, acres of rainforest…. I could go on. And yet the image burning in my memory a week after I returned home is a single exhibit at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney. My husband and I had signed up for a zoo tour that would enable us to meet some of the animals in the zoo’s native fauna section, including marsupials like bilbys and binturongs and that prickly monotreme, the echidna. An unforgettable experience, to be sure, but at the end of the tour our group walked by the Tasmanian Devil Breeding Centre exhibit to see if those legendary critters were out and about. Sure enough, there in the middle of the habitat, was a baby devil eating the guts out of a dead kangaroo. Okay, back up. The kangaroo was a fake. But my shock was real. The exhibit is designed to look like a small country road meandering somewhere along the outskirts of Anytown, Australia. Short scrubby bushes flank a strip of black pavement. A yellow road sign cautions drivers to be on the lookout for wildlife who wander into the motorists’ path. Sprawled across the road’s dotted yellow line is the kangaroo, which visitors can presume was struck by a vehicle. The belly of the ’roo is hollowed out and includes wire framing that

the keepers use to attach the devils’ food, thus producing the effect of seeing a Tasmanian devil chowing down on Australian road kill. This isn’t just attempt to push boundaries, however. Tasmanian devils thrive in this type of environment; as scavengers, roads essentially serve devils their meals on a concrete platter. Animals that are killed in roadways become a feast for any devils nearby. And while that might seem like good news—who doesn’t like having ample food around?—Tasmanian devils are endangered due to a contagious cancer called Devil Facial Tumor Disease. As devils come together and share their meal, they pass the disease around to each other, thus further infecting their already vulnerable population. As a visitor, you can get only part of this story from the animal’s habitat; you have to explore the rest of the exhibit to really understand what is going on in front of you. But that’s exactly why the exhibit was so effective. The exhibit was one of the only ones I have ever seen where I felt undeniably compelled to learn more, and I wasn’t alone; there were as many visitors gathered around the facial tumor signs as around the animals. With that gutsy (pun intended) display and thoughtful interpretives, the Taronga Zoo not only communicates its devil conservation program to guests, but also provokes visitors to think differently about their relationship to native wildlife. It also can’t hurt

Tasmanian devils, scavengers in the wild, eat their meal at the Taronga Zoo out of a kangaroo armature.

guests’ understanding of food chains and the important role that scavengers play. Zoos and aquariums know that it’s the lions, dolphins and other exotic “worldly” animals that our guests think of when planning their trips to the zoo. But as we seek to inspire guests towards positive conservation attitudes and actions, we can’t ignore the animals in our own backyards. The Taronga Zoo has exemplified this concept in their Tasmanian devil habitat. They’re also building a literal backyard exhibit where they can house a variety of native marsupials. Currently, many domesticate cat owners allow their pets to be “outdoor” cats, which can be a significant problem for native species; they hunt and kill many of the smaller animals that call Australia home. Taronga Zoo and other conservation organizations are working to convince pet owners to keep their cats inside

for the safety of the ecosystem in which they live. This exhibit will help the zoo communicate that message by once again highlighting how much a part of nature humans and their built environments are. The Taronga Zoo mission statement reads: “Our role in conservation is to create direct and positive connections between wildlife and people.” I can’t think of anything more direct than using exhibit design to showcase the complexity of the human-wildlife relationship. What ways can all of us push the boundaries to provoke such reflection in our guests? I challenge each of us to have some “guts” as we answer that question.

National Association for Interpretation 31


The CrossPollination of Nature and History Sites Amy Dee Stephens Oklahoma City Zoo

ZooZeum’s logo

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Bzzzz….. A little bee told me that NAI was seeking a platform for sharing ideas across the spectrum. Why? Zoos can learn from historic houses, nature centers can learn from art museums. The philosophy is that by sharing ideas and results, we all can flower. Crosspollination. As anyone in the interpretive field can attest, sites are having to broaden their scope in order to survive the high-stakes “entertainment” industry. Sometimes it’s a stretch. Does an IMAX theater have its place in an arboretum? Surely a spray park ties into a Civil War site, right? As a zoo educator, I have no doubt that elephants and giraffes are the main reason more than 150 million Americans walk through zoo gates each year. Snakes are cool, hippos are funny, and monkeys steal the show—but as entertainment venues, zoos offer a vast array of options to suit visitors’ taste: playgrounds, ropes courses, birthday party pavilions, merry-gorounds, food courts… Do these saturate or enhance the true purpose of zoos? It can be debated both ways, but most zoos have adapted with good results. Apparently, zoo “survival of the fittest” is dependent on train rides, technology, airconditioning, and, oh yeah, animals. The Oklahoma City Zoo has gone one step further, by opening a revolutionary

View a short segment about the zoo’s primates, taken from the ZooZeum’s OKC Zoo Animal Legacy. See more video at

attraction—a zoo history museum called the ZooZeum. Inside a 1930s historical building, visitors view traditional museum exhibits about how the zoo started, famous animals, special events, and favorite memories of zoo visitors over the past 100 years. This odd marriage of “living” and “non-living” collections sharing the same property has proved to be a success. The ZooZeum averages several thousands visitors each month, and after 10 months of operation, the busy non-museum

Todd Bridgewater

Amy Stephens at the ZooZeum

crowds have inflicted no damage on a single exhibit—that’s unheard of! Truthfully, few people come to the zoo to see the museum, but they are pleasantly surprised when they stumble across it. The quaint 80-yearold building is an unexpected time capsule, nestled between the ultra-modern elephant barn and the newly constructed show stadium. When people enter, they become respectful and calm. Discussions sound like this: “I remember that from when I was a kid…” or “Look how much the zoo has changed…” or my favorite statement from a five-year-old, “I’m glad the animals have more naturalistic exhibits now.” The ah-ha moment. So here’s the buzz—the cross-pollination of ideas that seem completely unrelated is a viable option for interpretive sites. The ZooZeum is a good example of how a zoo and a history museum have blended to offer visitors an additional layer of learning, cultural appreciation, and, dare I say, entertainment. Amy Dee Stephens, is a freelance writer and can be found online at http://amydeestephens. Contact her at amydeestephens@ or 405-408-5512.

ZWPA Outstanding Interpreter Award Announcement Do you know a member of the Zoos, Wildlife Parks, and Aquaria section who deserves an award? Nominate them for the ZWPA Outstanding Interpreter award! Front-line interpreters in Zoos, Wildlife Parks, and Aquariums can take many forms: educator, keeper, volunteer. This award was created to recognize an individual, whatever the title, who demonstrates excellence in animal interpretation. Nominees must be members of the ZWPA section of NAI, but anyone can submit a nomination. Find nomination forms and more information on the ZWPA website, http://naisections. org/ZWPA/awards. Nominations are due by March 15.

National Association for Interpretation 33


Home on the Range Laura Beers Disney’s Animal Kingdom

The Poitou donkey is listed as a critical breed with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. “Bert” is one of only a handful of Poitous born this year. There are only two AZA facilities in the United States that house Poitou donkey.

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Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam; Where the deer and the antelope play; Where seldom is heard a discouraging word; and the sky is not cloudy all day. Home on the Range is the state song of Kansas, and I know it quite well. Today, Kansas is more of an urban state than a rural one. Life on the farm and working with the land has become a thing of the past. The beautiful wheat fields of the town I grew up in have been replaced with housing developments and shopping centers. It is easy to see the connection between urban sprawl and children’s decreasing knowledge and connections with animals, nature and the origins of their food. Young children still sing Home on the Range in Kansas schools, but how many of them have seen the prairie’s where buffalo roam and the deer and the antelope play? One place children can see these animals are at the Sedgwick County Zoo (SCZ) in Wichita, Kansas. On a recent trip home, I visited the zoo I grew up with to see what was new at the zoo and to visit with an old friend and colleague, the curator of education, Schanee Anderson. Like many AZA institutions, the Sedgwick County Zoo is changing many of its exhibits to more naturalistic and modern facilities. We visited the oldest section of the zoo, their Children’s Farms. Schanee has some exciting ideas and plans to update the exhibits and connect Kansas children to the state’s agricultural roots. The zoo also wants to connect their visitors to domestic,

agricultural wildlife through consumerism. In my opinion, if you ask most children (or adults for that matter) what animals they think of when they hear the word endangered, many of them will give you a list of animals that aren’t native to North America. In addition, you probably won’t hear a mention of any domestic animals, plants or invertebrates either. When I asked my nieces this question, they definitely didn’t answer with Poitou donkey or Holland Chicken. The Sedgwick County Zoo has a great opportunity to re-connect Kansans to their roots and inspire them to learn more about endangered domestic and agricultural breeds in their Children’s Farms exhibits. Currently, at the back of the American Farm exhibit they have a small vegetable and herb garden. Traditionally, families that lived in rural Kansas built their home close to a water source

When Sedgwick County Zoo opened in 1971, the American and Asian farms were the only open exhibits. It houses one of the largest collections of rare domestics in the United States.

and used the herbs and vegetables from their gardens to pair with the meat that was raised and slaughtered on site. In addition, many plants that were grown had medicinal properties and could be used to heal common ailments such as headaches. The hope is that this underutilized area can be converted into a traditional rural farm, complete with an old farm house next to the barn where the livestock are kept, as well as a functioning water well and a herb, heirloom vegetable, and medicinal garden. The zoo also hopes to add traditional outdoor activities that were played on the farm such as: horseshoes, potato sacks for races, jacks or wooden toys, and perhaps a pile of sticks where kids can construct a fort. The zoo has a few clever ideas about connecting their visitors to agriculture through consumerism too! Inside the barn, visitors can see milking demonstrations (if a cow in the collection is lactating) and they even have a faux cow that visitors can hand milk! In addition, the Sedgwick County Zoo would like to have demonstrations or zoo programs where visitors of all ages can churn butter by hand. Schanee has also built a relationship with a local chef who is willing to offer cooking classes where visitors can learn about cuts of meat, methods of preparation as well as sampling of meats from breeds of animals that aren’t found in the grocery store. Perhaps they can take it a step further and incorporate herbs and heirloom vegetables from

the zoo garden to teach visitors how to begin or maintain a garden of their own. Lastly, every night, visitors can observe the keeper staff as they let the livestock out to pasture. However, on a traditional farm there is another animal that is important in this daily task, a herd dog. The Sedgwick County Zoo is thinking about ways that they can incorporate a herd dog into the collection and train the dog to work the livestock. Hopefully, the dog could roam freely in the area and help chase off some of the wildlife that doesn’t belong there like non-migrating Canada Geese! I feel that many zoos and aquariums do a phenomenal job at connecting our visitors to wildlife from around the world, but many of us fall flat in connecting our visitors to native wildlife, let alone connecting them to domestic animals used in agriculture. We have a long way to go, but I hope that you found some inspiration in the ideas that the Sedgwick County Zoo are considering. Perhaps you will try to implement a few at your institution! I hope to bring my nieces on my next visit to the Sedgwick County Zoo and experience the updates to their Children’s Farm exhibit together. Please share any ideas that you have for the specific exhibits mentioned in this article or best practices that you have learned in a similar situation at your zoo or aquarium.

The horticulture staff at Sedgwick County Zoo care for herb and enrichment gardens in the Farms Exhibit. Due to unseasonably warm temperatures, this cabbage has been a colorful year round.

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Why the Environmental Education Section is Important to Me Faith Duncan

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Deb McRae and I recently called a number of the members of the EE Section. It was cold and snowy in my hometown as I explained the reason for my call to hundreds of people from NAI Regions 10 and 6. Deb was busy calling the Plains states. Other volunteers had stepped up to call people in the east. Thanks to Val Wright and Katie Fisk, who stepped up to being newsletter co-editors. Thanks also to Susan Meyers, Rachel Herrold, and Liz Burke for stepping up to help. A non-member, Michael Vandeman from California also volunteered his help on the phones. It all seemed rather surreal. There are a great many members in the section. I have never left so many messages. There was great response to the poll that was sent to members. The results indicated a majority of responders felt strongly about retaining the section, particularly since a slate of people had stepped forward to run as officers. Some members felt strongly about having the EE Section absorbed into the Interpretive Naturalists. There were a very few people that wanted the Section to disappear altogether. Now that membership in Sections does not cost anyone anything extra, I would encourage everyone to add and subtract at will. Certainly having an InterSection Newsletter should help. Bravo Paul! Many felt strongly about the need to have preworkshops that focused on EE. Check that off the

list. There is hopefully going to be one focused on early childhood education this fall in Hampton. Other members felt strongly that sooner or later they might want to apply for the EE scholarship to get to an NAI National Workshop. Costs are only going up; graduate students interested in breaking into the field were interested in giving papers. They were hopeful that the EE funds were going to be accessible and available to them. Check that off the list if a slate of potential candidates would step forward to run. People did. A slate is being assembled. Deb worked hard on an operating plan; I worked on a draft. It was turned in on time, and now we must move forward with our efforts to re-build a strong section with an energized membership. That happens one member at a time. I would like to encourage you to renew your commitments in a field that serves all generations that live on the planet. Contribute an article to the new newsletter format; attend a pre-workshop; and, continue to communicate with your leadership about what your needs are in relation to how the Section can serve you. Thanks for all the positive feedback. Faith L. Duncan Past EE Section Chair


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