New museum director radiates enthusiasm

January 15, 2013 

Many now in middle age who were raised in Raleigh can remember, vaguely, the state Museum of Natural Sciences from their youth. A skeleton, some snakes, a few other exhibits. It was, so far as museums go, almost an afterthought, particularly considering it was in the Capital City.

Then, 22 years ago, along came an energetic visionary named Betsy Bennett. It’s not the slightest exaggeration to say that, as director, she made the museum what it is today, a marvel of exhibits and interaction and community outreach that enthralls children and adults alike.

When Bennett announced that, with the museum stable and healthy and armed with strong fundraising and a good staff, she was going to retire, there was some nervousness about its future. Not its survival, of course, but its leadership. Who could succeed someone who had been so wildly successful?

Perhaps the breathing of the museum’s fans and supporters is a bit easier now. Emlyn Koster, born in Egypt, raised in England and with a strong background in museum innovation in Canada and New Jersey, fits the successor bill very well. Koster, who takes over Jan. 28, holds a doctorate in geology and is credited with revitalizing the New Jersey Science Center over a 15-year tenure.

That kind of effort takes not just managerial skill but also boundless and infectious enthusiasm. Koster appears to have that aplenty, as he told a group assembled for his introduction at the museum Monday that he believed, “Great museums are places where ‘Eureka!’ ‘Aha!’ and ‘Wow!’ moments happen every day.”

With such a comment, Koster demonstrated that he gets it, in terms of what the science museum has become to students and visitors from throughout the state who make it a top stop on school tours and family vacations. They really do go “Wow!” whether they’re looking at dinosaur skeletons or reconstructions of habitats for critters in the wild or watching their kids do experiments in the hands-on room devoted to the little ones.

He also believes the museum can be a gathering place for discussions about the environment and other topics relevant to several generations.

Given what has happened at the museum in the past two decades, the “Bennett era” really will never be over. But Emlyn Koster seems a leader ready to begin his own.

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