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New ScienceWorks director pushes interactivity

Dan Ruby, the new executive director for ScienceWorks Hands-on Museum in Ashland, comes from a long background in planetary science, loves the direction the museum is going and hopes to deepen its appeal beyond school-age visitors.

Ruby, 41, has been with Fleischmann Planetarium of the University of Nevada, Reno since 2005, serving as its executive director for four years. He starts at ScienceWorks June 18, succeeding Ann Dowdy, who served from February 2017 through the end of the year.

“I want to see more of the high-quality exhibits they have created with their super-talented team,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s going to be fun. I don’t want to fix what’s not broken. It’s such a great resource for K-12 education, and that’s where my background and outreach is — and I also want to engage more lifelong learners.”

Ruby lauded ScienceWorks’ innovative and interactive pterosaur exhibit, pioneered by cyber-wise board director Steve Utt, and says that’s the direction he wants to continue to expand, “not just Pavlovian button-pushing,” but interactivity with an eye to deeper learning for all ages.

“Everyone I talk to says it’s so smart and exciting,” he notes, “and a lot of other science museums don’t have stuff like this.”

ScienceWorks is surrounded by elementary, middle and high schools, as well as Southern Oregon University, and Ruby said he wants to keep integrating their science studies with ScienceWorks — and bringing the research of SOU out to the public.

In a statement, ScienceWorks noted, “At the planetarium, Ruby created and implemented a new vision as a dynamic K-12 Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics (STEM) engagement lab and a partner with formal education. This included programming for 15,000 students a year, including campus-wide camps for students in grades 6-12. He helped increase attendance over a two-year period to 55,000 annually. He transitioned the organization to a sustainable and thriving self-funded operation after it lost public funding during deep state budget cuts.”

Coming on board in a climate in which science “has been unfortunately politicized,” Ruby emphasizes that “science has no politicized position. You want to be careful to stay away from anything that further politicizes it. Science is a human pursuit. Science is science and doesn’t belong to any party.”

Ruby has a master’s degree in secondary science education from UNR and worked at Oregon Museum of Science and Industry while attending Portland State University. He and his family have frequented ScienceWorks, Oregon Shakespeare Festival and other sites here, while going back and forth visiting relatives in Portland, he says.

Ruby says he sees ScienceWorks as financially sound, a place with a bright future, as it’s situated in a spot with a thriving theater and university community, where many tourists come and look for additional learning experiences to engage in.

Ruby will lead a team of more than 20 full- and part-time employees, plus dozens of interns and volunteers.

“We are thrilled Dan Ruby is taking the helm,” said Utt. “He is not only a proven leader but a specialist in science centers. He brings a fantastic combination of nonprofit management expertise, matched by a real excitement for interactive science.”

ScienceWorks has been serving the Rogue Valley region since 2002 at 1500 E. Main St. in Ashland. The museum is home to more than 100 exhibits. For more information, call 541-482-6767 or see scienceworksmuseum.org

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Fleischmann Planetarium photoScienceWorks incoming executive director, Dan Ruby, left, is passionate about working with youth and inspiring their love for STEM.