Hillary Olson was just 11 years old when her Brockport class took a field trip to Strasenburgh Planetarium.
It was when a light year was being explained her mind started to whirl.
Her amazement over the concept quickly morphed into a passion for space.
Olson went on to study astronomy, but in that time she developed a love of education so she gravitated towards running planetariums and science museums.
That work would take her across the country, but this past November, Olson came home to become President and CEO of the Rochester Museum and Science Center.
She talked with Adam about the transition.
Adam: How do we get more women into science?
Olson: I think women and girls from an early age get told that science isn’t cool or math isn’t cool and I think it’s about catching them at 3rd, 4th and 5th grade rather than waiting until they’re in high school and saying, ‘Oh, there’s an engineering program or something else when they’ve really faded out is really important. I also think getting girls included in science through things they’re already passionate about like e-crafting or design or making sure chemistry is mixed up into, maybe they’re making makeup or maybe they’re designing something that’s also an engineering project, but maybe they’re also making something, but also making it look good. It’s finding their passion and finding science through that way.
Adam: What can we expect here at the museum?
Olson: The museum is going through a lot of changes right now. Right now, we’re sitting in the SoundSense gallery so you can hear people playing music and feeling music and being a part of music and the best model the museum has is taking our collections items, we have over one million collections items and taking them out and putting them on display with hands-on activities and that hybrid exhibit model is the very best thing that we do and that’s happening now and it’ll happen going forward as well where we’re using the hands-on exhibits and our collection in new ways.
Adam: And you came into a renovated planetarium and it seems like a hot thing right now…
Olson: I did! Oh my gosh, we got the Digistar 6 system, the entire dome of the planetarium, it becomes a real experience rather than slides and rectangular things, we have the entire dome completely immersed in this data visualization. You can see Saturn, the moon, you can fly over things, you can fly over the Earth, you can zoom in and zoom out of the solar system and universe and people are really experiencing it in completely new ways and they love it. We also have new seating with bean bag chairs and experiencing it however they want to so there’s whole families laying out on bean bags now and it’s a an amazing experience.
Adam: And coming back home, this was not a guarantee, you didn’t know this was going to happen.
Olson: No, not at all. I mean the job opened and to be honest my father sent me the announcement that the previous president was retiring and then he said, ‘OK, now are you interested in coming home?’ And I said, ‘Sure, but I’m not going to get the job.’ And then I did. So, it really was an amazing opportunity and it is an amazing opportunity to see change and follow my passion at home where I haven’t had that chance to really make a difference in my hometown. I haven’t been back in almost 30 years.