Kate Hruby, Science Educator, and Podcaster

Go Forth and Science

Photo courtesy Kate Hruby.

Kate Hruby is an avid sailor, a science educator, artist, and creator of “Go Forth and Science,” a websie and podcast dedicated to “communicating science in a way that is fun, interesting, and easy to understand.” She takes the sometimes dry and complex issues of science and climate change—and make these subjects clear and memorable, particularly for students.

Kate came to Maine the long way, travelling across the country from her home in Olympia, Washington, to attend the University of New England (UNE). As a starting undergrad, she anticipated fall foliage, maybe some moose sightings, and certainly some glorious fall hikes.  She wasn’t prepared for ticks on her legs after a day in the woods or the need to wear a dry suit when sailing in a tiny boat because the water was so frigid.   

None of the surprises dampened Kate’s enthusiasm for Maine and particularly not for sailing. On the contrary, Kate helped start a sailing club at UNE and began teaching others how to sail. The club was started by purchasing a couple of small, two-person sailboats from Craigslist. Then the group hosted learn-to-sail lessons on weekends. The club and their clinics remain part of UNE’s outdoor recreation clubs.

Graphic art by Kate on the topic of providing salt marshes with sufficient space to migrate inland as sea levels rise. Photo courtesy Kate Hruby.

Kate majored in environmental science with minors in oceanography and biophysics at UNE and went on to pursue an advanced degree at the University of Maine in Orono, studying Earth and Climate Science. Her interest was not to become a working scientist but to be a science educator. Putting scientific ideas and facts across in plain language, she feels, has always been her calling. 

Kate, as a graduate student at University of Maine, doing field work in Alaska on the Jarvis Crevasse. Photo courtesy Kate Hruby.

“I figured having a master’s degree in a hard science field would set me up to then say, ‘Look, I’m a scientist, I’ve talked like a scientist, and we need to make ourselves more accessible to people without a science background.”

The way has not always been smooth, but there have been comedic moments. In 2018, for example, she and three other graduate students went to Alaska to study a glacier. It took three helicopter trips to land the team and their gear at their field study site.

“Our gear ended up getting dropped off a couple miles down-glacier of our field site, so we spent the next several days hiking all our gear—our tents, food, science equipment—back up to where we needed to camp. On the last day on the glacier, I had the privilege of carrying the wine from the drop site to our camp. That is hopefully the first and last time I carry three liters of wine for that many miles, while wearing crampons.” The crampons attached to the bottom of her hiking boots and gave her the necessary traction to walk on the ice and snow. 

Another time, Kate was stranded with a group of school-aged kids at an airport in Tampa, late at night. Their seemingly impossible goal was to get everyone to Key West in time to rendezvous with a boat scheduled to sail the next day.  “It was spring break season, and every bus company was booked. We ended up finding a party bus that would take us, so all 20 kids and five adults packed into this small box of flashing lights and pop music and made our way to the southern tip of Florida. I can definitely tell you that I did not get a wink of sleep that night.”

Though uncomfortable at the time, these kinds of adventures—in the cause of nature study—fill Kate with joy, as do the constant surprises she gets from being out in nature. And that joy inspired her to create “Go Forth and Science,” her website and podcast, creations that communicate science in fun, engaging ways.

Her audio podcasts, some with accompanying notes, are kept around 20 minutes in length to fit into busy schedules or alongside lesson plans. Go Forth and Science also has educational comic art along with a few videos that cover topics ranging from bears and comets to storms and climate change. All are free to access and delivered in a conversational and light-hearted way, a nice change of pace from some of the drier forms of online learning.

“I’m the first to admit my working with kids has also just brought out a love of teen novels and comics and TV shows.” The popular culture she is immersed in is “probably more along the level of the high schoolers I teach than the adult scientists who are my colleagues. I think that probably, to some extent, that material gets put into my art, as well as explaining why I love doing comic art so much.”

Kate isn’t joking around, however, when she talks about climate change. “It’s clear to see what sea-level rise is doing to the state when places like Portland are now flooding so often. But climate change in Maine isn’t just about the ocean. It’s also about the increasing number of ticks as winters shorten. And changes in agriculture and land ecosystems. As air temperatures warm, it opens up forests to southern pests and invasive species.”

Kate says that Maine has the capacity and ingenuity to find solutions and adapt to the changes that occur in association with the warming climate. Solutions such as investing in alternative sources of energy and thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing salt marshes with sufficient space to migrate inland as sea levels rise.

“My job as a science communicator is to incorporate those details into the whole story, so it’s still accurate and meaningful, but also easier to digest.”

Kate, at present, is back in Washington State. She works as an educator on a sailboat that seasonally takes junior and senior high students on trips to study the ocean and its creatures. While Kate’s sea legs may have returned her to the Pacific, her eyes are focused through lenses acquired in Maine.

“That specific way to look at the world, that training, ultimately led me directly to my current work, both as an outdoor educator on sailboats and as a science communicator.”

For more on Kate’s podcasts and art, go to GoForthandScience.com. Kate talks about her process in Episode 5 of the Women Mind the Water podcast series which can be found at womenmindthewater.com

A Note from the Author, about the Women Mind the Water Project

Author Pam Ferris-Olsen at Winslow Park, a place where she goes for inspiration when she can’t get out on the water in her Kayak. Photo by James Olsen.

As a writer and photographer, scientist and storyteller, I am aware of the growing perils that the ocean faces.  Considering such threats as climate change, warming oceans, plastic pollution, and species depletion, I kept thinking, “What can I do?”  My answer has been the Women Mind the Water (WMW) project; my talk with Kate Hruby is one example of the project. 

I started WMW with collaboration as its fundamental tenet—a way of joining and thus amplifying the impact of our stories, talents, and energies. I invite you to connect to any and all ongoing WMW collaborations. Here are some examples:

  • Stories about women’s experiences with water.  I’ve collected over 70 short digital stories of women talking about their connections with water. All are archived on the Women Mind the Water website and many by the Smithsonian’s Stories from Main Street initiative.
  • Environmental art website and podcast.  Working with the two talented ladies who make up StoryPunch, I created the WMW website and podcast. In addition to the digital stories, the website features my art, images of marine animals that speak to the impacts of human activity. There’s a section with news related to the ocean and a link to a video of the CommUnity Champion recognition that Channel 8 in Portland awarded me. My WMW podcasts feature women artists whose works are inspired by the ocean. Each artist suggests someone for a later episode. Mary Jameson of Saltwater Studio Newport was the first artist I interviewed. Mary, who uses seaweed and other marine botanicals to create unique works of art, introduced me to Michelle Provencal (featured in WMW podcast episode 4 and in my article in Maine Women Magazine, December 2020). And we’ve rolled on from there!
  • A discussion group based on Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us (1951). In conjunction with the Maine Humanities Council, I will be coordinating a virtual discussion group. Carson’s book was on the New York Times best-seller list for 31 consecutive weeks and won the 1952 National Book Award. It provides a valuable lens to reflect how the ocean has changed in the past 70 years.

I hope to inspire Maine Women Magazine readers to share their stories, join the book discussion group, engage in the stories on my site, and suggest ways we might work together to create new connections and make a difference. More about my process can be heard in episode one of the WMW podcast series.

The Women Mind the Water web address is womenmindthewater.com. I can be reached at womenmindthewater@comcast.net.

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