Joel Hoffman ~ Great Lakes Connector

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Entertaining and Accurate

Aquarium building
Dr. Joel Hoffman has fond memories of visiting Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, instilling a lifelong love of aquaria. One of the first things he did after moving to Duluth was to go down to the Great Lakes Aquarium and say, "Sign me up!". He has been an active volunteer there ever since. "They have a wonderful education program, committed to educating students about the Great Lakes science they are presenting in their exhibits," says Joel.

Some days he likes to just go stand by the big fish tank and watch how people interact with the exhibits. Without telling anyone who he is or what he does, he listens to the language that visitors use and how they interact with exhibits; answers questions; and tries out different phrases to see what works and what doesn't.

"I wanted to find a way for people to have a positive experience and have science too."
He has also participated in a "science walk through" at the aquarium. Scientists are invited to evaluate a new exhibit and make suggestions for how the science content can be improved, or point out if there is a "science story" that's missing. Joel also provides input on developing exhibits, looking at ways to help. He was a consulting scientist on a new exotic species exhibit, helping to write a grant to support the exhibit and also guiding the display of materials. Joel has also proposed an ad hoc working group to bring artists and scientists together to develop exhibits at the aquarium.

Joel's perspective has evolved as well, moving beyond the "anti-edutainment" bias held by many scientists. "Scientists may not like it, but it's a legitimate concept," says Joel. "However we present content it has to be engaging. If we get you interested in Great Lakes science through an exhibit, there's nothing wrong with that - as long as it's scientifically accurate."

Sarah Erickson
Sarah Erickson, Education Director at Great Lakes Aquarium
Joel plays a key role in the outreach efforts at the Aquarium