Wednesday, December 2, 2015

7 Questions With Gretchen Henrich, Director of Interpretive Education at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Gretchen Henrich joined the staff of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in 1999 as the Children’s and Family Program Coordinator. She has a degree in Zoology from the University of California, Davis and began her education work in zoos. In her 25-year career, she has developed both humanities and science education programs in museums.

As Director of the Interpretive Education Division, she is currently responsible for managing interpretive programs and services as outlined in the Center’s Interpretive Plan. She also works on exhibit element interpretation, hands-on exhibitions, visitor service elements, and evaluation throughout the museum.

1.         How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
I would say I really got hooked on history later in my life than most. I struggled with history in school, nobody was able to light that spark in my early life. I was an animal lover, good at science and math, and I couldn’t see the relevance of history to my life or future career path. I think my true fascination with history came when I started working at the Center. The Center, where I currently work, has five museums that cover art, cultural, and natural history. The tangible objects in the museum revealed stories and meanings that helped me begin to understand history and its value. Because the museum’s collections are so diverse, I was beginning to learn about aspects of history from many sources. I was no longer learning history facts from a book, but I was challenged to look at history from lots of perspectives through a variety of resources. I am continually taught history through museum objects, fellow staff members, artists, Plains Indian tribal members, and scientists. I have such a comprehensive set of historical resources at my fingertips here at the Center, I am hooked!

2.         What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
After growing up in San Diego, I returned to the place in Wyoming where my mother’s family has roots. I am learning about my family history by being immersed in the local area. I now live in a house overlooking a man-made reservoir that flooded the town of Marquette where my great-grandparents lived. I run into people that continually give me little snippets of my own history through their stories. I recently discovered, through my coworker’s family research that I have a distant cousin working with me here at the Center!

3.         How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
I talk about history every day here at the Center. I love challenging students and adults to think about historical topics in a way that they may not have thought about them before. I like to present lots of perspectives and listen to how they process that information and form their own opinions about events in history.

4.         Why is studying/knowing history important?
I think that sense of individual identity that you get from studying history is important. Why do I have the beliefs I have? How do those who came before me shape what is happening in my world now? How do the events of the past effect society as a whole?

5.         What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
While working here at the Center, I have developed an interest in Plains Indian culture and history. It is interesting to observe throughout history how cultures clash, blend, evolve, and hold on to traditional values. I have met some fascinating people that have been willing to share their tribal cultural values and history with me and learning about their perspectives has enriched my understanding of history.

6.         What is the mission of the Education Division Buffalo Bill Center of the West?
Interpretive Education at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West embraces innovative, engaging, and thought-provoking methods of understanding cultural and natural objects and resources. The Center’s interpretive specialists blend far-reaching ideas of the West with experiences that set the stage for compelling stories of the West that unfold in an informal learning process.

7.         What are the greatest challenges and rewards of your job as Director of the Interpretive Education Division?
I think the greatest reward is when I hear someone say “I never thought of it that way before.” Or when a child says, “this is really cool.” It is so fun to watch the light bulb go on! I think the challenges for the museum field in general are remaining relevant to an ever changing audience. As a new generation begins to learn in different ways and with technology changing so fast, it is hard to keep up!

No comments:

Post a Comment