WHEELING - Hired last December as the director for Oglebay Institute's Schrader Center, Alice Eastman is bringing fresh ideas to a "green" center that creates opportunities to celebrate and study the natural world.
"I'm not going to do a whole lot of sweeping changes until I see how everything works ... I want to get a full year under my belt, talk to the staff ... and then we can take a good, hard look at what we want to adjust," said the Wheaton, Illinois native whose five-year vision for the center includes updating exhibits and programs and fulfilling the "green" initiatives set in place when the center was constructed.
Additionally, she continues to re-evaluate the duties of her staff. "Are we doing the things as a staff that we're suppose to be doing, because this green building is here," she said.
Photos by Scott McCloskey
Alice Eastman, director for the Oglebay Institute’s Schrader Environmental Center poses for a photo.
"This being a green building, one of the things I wanted to do is come in and say, 'OK, it's been around for 10 years. Is it really doing what it is supposed to be doing? Is it fulfilling all of those green things that were part of the architecture and just the bones of the building? That is one of the things I'm going to be taking a good hard look at," said Eastman, who formed a connection with Oglebay Park after participating in a variety of "zoo school" seminars offered through the National Training Center at the park since 1999.
Eastman said Oglebay Park became such a familiar place that she began to feel "very comfortable" while attending conservation education, supervisory and "green" schools at the resort's conference center.
"It's Oglebay. You can't go wrong," Eastman said. "They've got a fantastic reputation. They're located in a beautiful part of the country," she said while commenting about her reasons for applying for the director's position. The center creates opportunities to celebrate and study the natural world by offering hands-on instruction through a variety of year-round classes, school programs and camping experiences. The former director, Eric Janelsins, accepted another position with the Oglebay Foundation.
"It just felt good, it felt comfortable, it felt right. It just always felt good coming here to school driving up the hill and seeing the lodge. It's like, 'OK, I'm back - this is good.'"
After being very involved in the planning of a LEED - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - Platinum nature center while working in Wheaton, Eastman said she would like to "rejuvenate" the exhibit hall at the Schrader Center.
"It has so much potential ... and at this point in time we aren't using our space efficiently. I really want to take a hard look at the programs we are doing, the programs we want to do and where in the building and around the building we can do those programs the best," Eastman said. "Right now we're close, but there are things we can do. We can use the exhibit hall for program space which we're not able to do right now because of the layout. ... Eleven years ago when those exhibits were put in they were thought through."
But that was then and this is now contends Eastman - who strongly believes the exhibits need to be more hands on and interpretive with more up-to-dated technology.
"Studies have been done ... If you can't read an exhibit panel in eight seconds you're going to walk away from it," she commented. "And if you look at the panels that are up there, the information is fabulous but they're way too long. ... Again, it's just forming a connection to the site and the place and then making you think and hopefully provoking some actions - turning the lights off when you leave a room ... all those kinds of things."
"A lot of the programs we do we have been doing for a long time. They are great programs," Eastman said. However she believes it is time to concentrate a bit more on younger children.
"We are really, really good with older kids (5th through 8th grades), but we never see the little guys," Eastman said.
While they do offer a great preschool program, Eastman contends there is a tremendous gap. She said they are missing programs for children between preschool and12 years of age.
"There's this giant gap until 12 or 13 years-old that we don't see ... and they're sponges at that point in time, they're curious and interested," Eastman said. She said by the time they see them in their early teens there's that "disconnect," something Eastman wants to change.
An accredited professional with the U.S. Green Building Council, Eastman said she is currently in the process of applying for a federal grant that would provide the Schrader Center with an opportunity to become the "go-to information source" for other science centers located throughout the entire Ohio River Valley about their "Mission Ground Truth" science program.
"So we want to be that Wheelhouse if you will and that information center and teach other people how to do it," said Eastman, who is hopeful about the center getting that grant before spring of next year.
Eastman said she formerly began working in February of this year as the new director for the Schrader Center after spending three months in North Carolina working for a community nonprofit conservation organization called The Sandhills Area Land Trust, that had plans to launch an educational program which she said never quite got off the ground. She said it was during her time with that organization she discovered Oglebay Institute was taking applications for the Schrader Center's directors position.
Prior to working in North Carolina, Eastman handled the educational programs for Cosley Zoo in Wheaton where she also was accredited to teach supervisor school for nearly seven years. Prior to that she earned a bachelor's of science degree in botany and environmental biology at Eastern Illinois University. She now resides in Wheeling and has two grown sons attending college.