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Central MA Up + Comer: Worcester Think Tank’s Lauren Monroe

Thursday, April 10, 2014

 

Think Tank Director Lauren Monroe loves using her experiences around the world to spark kids' interest in science.

Lauren Monroe earned her Bachelor’s Degree of Science from University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2002. Upon completing her degree, she continued her studies in an extensive journey across the world that took her to Europe, Africa, South and Central America, and Asia. Spending most of her time in Japan, Lauren taught English as a second language in several language schools in and around Tokyo and through an educational travel group called Peace Boat. Peace Boat is a large charter cruise ship that circumnavigates the globe twice a year, making several stops around the world in an effort to educate its passengers about social, political, and environmental issues.

Upon completion of her time with Peace Boat, she returned to the States with renewed inspiration to continue study in the sciences and to teach. Lauren taught general science to at-risk teens at the Wetzel Center through YOU Inc. and received her MA teacher's licensure almost immediately upon return. She tutored chemistry and genetics to the homeschooled community for three years before recognizing the need for an educational lab and academic space in Worcester. With the help of several friends within the community, Lauren opened Think Tank with a mission to bring high quality, hands-on education to the Central MA community.

A Conversation with Lauren Monroe

SW: What was your vision for Think Tank?

LM: My vision for Think Tank was to have a space where educators and professionals could gather to dialogue, develop, and teach quality educational programs for kids. Hands-on, interdisciplinary methods and small classroom sizes were among the early philosophies. Programs were to be offered on a tuition base, and families could pick and choose among a variety of classes based on what best suited their needs, during the day and after school and designed for students aged 8-18.

SW: How did this come about?

LM: This vision came about quickly over the course of four or five months in 2008. I was tutoring homeschooling families in biology and chemistry and as the opportunities to tutor grew, so did my personal collection of microscopes, scales, and other tools. With a little courage and a lot of support from the families I was serving, I envisioned a center that might serve as a meeting place for classes and as storage for my growing collection! Assuming the homeschool need for hands-on science opportunities might be bigger than I’d imagined, I searched for a proper space and made preliminary plans. In August of 2008, I found a space within the Sprinkler Factory Studios. On September 1, 2008, Think Tank held its first open house. I was surprised at how well attended this was! It was apparent right away that an alternative educational space was needed in the area.

SW: Where has this taken you?

LM: Every year Think Tank has grown and we serve all kinds of families, not only homeschooling families. This year we have already served over 100 families and have new inquiries coming in every week. As the business is still only operated by two full-time administrative staff—myself and Adam Zelny (Think Tank has 14 part-time teachers)—it is hard to keep up. We may need to consider expanding into new space and taking on more staff for fall 2014.

SW: What are you working on now?

LM: One of the most exciting new programs beginning at Think Tank is called Curiosity Hacked. Curiosity Hacked is Think Tank’s first opportunity to engage in “maker” minded education. The “maker” education movement encourages project-based learning with an emphasis on building, inventing and re-inventing within STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) disciplines. This program and the hopeful expansion of it has attracted intellectual support and financial donations to help us grow. This fall will see the acquisition of such technical equipment as a 3D printer, vinyl cutter, and more adequate space for soldering electronics.

A number of other projects remain ‘in the works” at Think Tank. We are planning our fall semester programs here and at the EcoTarium, developing art and science curriculum with the Worcester Center for Crafts, building awareness to our scholarship programs for Worcester residents and recruiting and interviewing new part-time teachers and volunteers. We are particularly looking for educators and enthusiasts with technical skills.

SW: How do you spend any free time?

LM: What I do in my free time changes seasonally, but in general I love traveling and hiking. Presently, any free time I get is spent in a tiny timber frame house built by my partner Ian Anderson. Ian and I share an apartment in Worcester but frequently spend weekends in the tiny house in a pine grove just outside of Worcester.

During these weekends, I spend time snow shoeing, hiking, and recently have begun surveying local wetlands near the house. I’m extremely inspired by microscopic images and will often sample and collect on my hikes, and then spend time with the samples at the microscope. I’ll draw the magnified images and consider the recurring shapes and patterns I see in microscopic plants and animals. If I’m lucky something I see or draw will turn into an art and science project for kids or for an art and science installation related to my Worcester Arts Council fellowship grant. I am a proud and fortunate 2014 recipient of this grant, which awards two artists a year to pursue their passions and projects. I also enjoy singing and practice once a month with a small jug band in Holland, MA.

SW: Who or what has been the biggest influence on your life?

LM: My partner Ian Anderson, my colleague Jennifer Swan, a handful of amazing teachers throughout my life, and the lateastrophysicist and author Carl Sagan, are people who have all greatly influenced my life. I was also greatly influenced by living in Japan and then Europe after college. 

As far as people as influences, Ian and Jen have taught me hands-on skills that have proved invaluable to me as a science teacher. My teachers—Mrs. Hayes, Mrs. Scales, Mr. Davis, Mr. Bear, Ms. Kubica, and Dr. Arny—were influences that led me to science, travel, and teaching. And finally, reading Carl Sagan in my mid-20s reignited a passion and ambition to pursue science that had otherwise been missing just after college. Like any great teacher can, Sagan poetically breaks down complex concepts into accessible pieces of information for any reader. I aspire to have even a fraction of his mastery and means of communication.

SW: What is on the drawing board for 2014?

LM: Think Tank will have art and science work on display at the EcoTarium on Saturday, May 31st. Lauren will be presenting on integrated art and science education practices at the Hanover Theater on April 10th, at the Introduction to Art of Science Learning and the Worcester Incubator for Innovation.

 

Central MA Up + Comer is a weekly profile of a member of the next generation as they are making their mark on the Central MA workforce and community. Join us every Thursday for a look at the careers and lifestyles of the local digital generation. If you have suggestions for a profile, email [email protected].

Susan D. Wagner is president of Susan Wagner PR, a boutique public relations firm invested in meeting client's goals with integrity and creativity.

 

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