Hank Gruner works in a lively place where families and school groups interact with many types of exhibits that teach about diverse science topics like health, the environment and physics. Gruner is the vice president of programs at the Connecticut Science Center. The workplace of this College alumnus reflects his enthusiasm for making all scientific disciplines accessible to all types of people.
What was your major in the College? When did you graduate? With what degree? In 1980, I received a BS in natural resource management.
What class was most useful to you? Two faculty members, who were very different in their styles, left good impressions on me.
Hal Caswell taught advanced ecology. I did not realize it at the time, but he had an accurate sense of where the future was going with computers and data analysis. This was new territory for me.
Henry Haalck emphasized thinking of science in a broader perspective. It was eye opening. He encouraged his students to discuss science within a social context, but I saw how he was always taking us where he wanted us to go. He advocated the reading of National Geographic to get a global idea of what was happening across science, and I did it.
Tell us some of your fond memories of UConn. I lived in the all-male Lafayette dorm in the Towers residence halls complex. The students living there bonded with each other while hiking the trails around UConn and exploring Horsebarn Hill. Our time together fostered learning (and competition) because some of us in natural resources would quiz each other on dendrology as we encountered various trees along the way. I still keep in touch with about 50% of my college friends.
In addition, I remember the parties. Once, we built a stage and held a musical event that we called Tower Jam. I played electric guitar.
Please describe your current job. I am vice president of programs at the Connecticut Science Center. In science education, we are trying to bring people and science closer together. This has been a personal interest of mine for the eight years I have worked here. The exhibits and programs at the Center change to keep things fresh and to reach new segments of the population in an appealing way. I am always thinking creatively about potential pathways to science that will engage people and allow them to participate in learning. Some activities work, and some don’t, but I keep trying new things. Now, in light of the latest science standards, my focus is the professional development of teachers. I find this very rewarding.
Are you doing what you imagined you would be doing at this point in your life? I was always interested in science, but no one would have believed that I would end up in the educational realm, interacting with students and teachers. In high school, the traditional classroom was not for me, and I was quite introverted.
After I graduated from UConn, I worked for the wildlife division of what was then called DEP. My next position was at the Children’s Museum in West Hartford. Those jobs, special mentors and my involvement in conservation efforts helped me see the importance of bringing the facts of science to people in a way that they can understand and respond to with action. In addition, presenting programs to various audiences and performing music publicly helped me with my shyness.
Do you have any advice for current students that will help them in the future? 1) The academic setting has more opportunities than you realize. Look for those things; they will give you an edge. For example, develop your skill sets and expand your thinking with learning more about GIS and other technologies.
2) Work on your communications skills because possessing them can position you for jobs. Employers have a huge need for employees who can work well with other people. Go to seminars and, perhaps, take a comedy improvisation class to gain confidence.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? I am interested in wildlife, especially herpetology. I am currently working on a book on the conservation of Connecticut amphibians and reptiles with Dr. Michael Klemens.
Playing and listening to music are my passions. I play both acoustic and electric guitar.
I am married with two children. One is in business school and the other is a third grade teacher. Neither child went into science, but that is okay.
By Patsy Evans