Unearthing treasure was always in Meg Poole’s future.
“I always envisioned myself becoming an archaeologist — you know, Indiana Jones — being out in the field digging and finding things,” Poole recalls. “That’s what I wanted to do.”
Studying anthropology at Colorado College, she found herself irresistibly drawn to sharing history through education and working with kids.
As program coordinator at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, she builds adventures of a different kind — bringing the city’s past to life for tourists, students and Springs residents of all ages.
Poole talked to the Business Journal about what changed the trajectory of her career, the importance of making connections, and why Colorado Springs is the only city for her.
What led you to focus on education?
I was born and raised in the Springs — so I’m rare, I think. I studied anthropology at Colorado College and there’s the IDEA Space [Interdisciplinary Experimental Arts] on campus, which is kind of a modern art gallery. I worked in a new work-study position there, where they wanted a student to work a number of hours each week to bring in local schools and to connect them to the displays, the exhibits and the gallery.
That’s what got me interested in education: I saw this connection between the power of objects and the stories they tell, and using that to help kids understand the past and understand other cultures. I really credit that with getting me on this path.
How did you pursue that interest?
Right after college, I moved to D.C. for a year to do the AmeriCorps Vista program, with a nonprofit group called Critical Exposure. They teach high school and middle school kids documentary photography and about the principles of advocacy. The idea is: If you have an issue, how can you use photography and your knowledge and your resources to advocate creating changes in your community? Again, the work was focused on education — I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to stick to that path. It made me realize I was really passionate about teaching and using my resources and the arts and museums to help people understand.
Do kids learn differently in a museum?
Absolutely. What’s so special about field trips to museums like the Pioneers Museum is that you get kids out of their environment so they’re already thinking differently, and they’re excited. We’re able to pass around objects, and we’re able to take our time on certain subjects where teachers, in so many ways, are really pressured to stick to the script and they have A, B and C they have to accomplish every day. So this engages kids in a different way; it’s sparking their brain in a different way.
What led you to the Pioneers Museum?
After my year with AmeriCorps, I moved back and got a position as a museum educator here [at the Pioneers Museum]. I was here for two years then moved back to D.C., where I worked for the Smithsonian. I was a cultural interpreter for the National Museum of the American Indian — which was so fascinating. Of course here in the [Pioneers] Museum, we focus on Plains and Great Basin tribes and we have a whole exhibit called Cultural Crossroads, so being able to apply that knowledge and move to D.C. and learn a tremendous amount was amazing. I did that for a year, and then I was a little homesick. I moved back to the Springs and worked as an interpreter for Bear Creek Nature Center and then this job opened up. It was competitive and I was so nervous.
What is it about Colorado Springs that keeps bringing you back?
I was talking just this morning about Colorado Springs, and why this is such an important place for young professionals to stay. For me, D.C. is so big and you’re such a small wheel in the machine — it’s a different world, and I didn’t feel as connected to community there. In my experience here at the museum, I’m able to effect change. I’m part of decisions; I get to actually work with the curator and talk to the director, and they help me think through ideas. At the Smithsonian, you don’t talk to the director, you don’t talk to the curator — that was a huge adjustment for me, and I really missed that close-knit relationship with my co-workers.
What does a program coordinator do?
Every day is different. My aim is to support our mission, which involves creating connections through the preservation and sharing of regional history. I’m on the education side of that. We have a curator who plans the exhibits; we have a registrar who supervises the physical collection; we have an archivist; and I’m the one who takes all the incredible information that they create, and then I interpret that for the public. I do that through field trips — we have hundreds of school kids visiting every week — and we also do lots of programs aimed at different audiences. We’re really well connected with families through wonderful free programs, and we have a scholarly lecture series for adults each month, as well as festivals.
What are the most important qualities for this role?
A really great ability to connect with lots of different people and an ability make them feel they’re a part of what we’re doing, and that we genuinely care about how we impact them. If we can tell them ‘We’re so excited to have you here; this is your museum,’ then we can connect. We’re sitting down with teachers and saying, ‘We understand it’s really challenging to meet the social studies and history standards in your classroom — what can we put online to support your academic standards?’ We’re sitting down with volunteers, retired folks who are looking for a way to connect in the community and who love history. We’re respecting the incredible background and knowledge they bring. It’s exhausting, but it makes you so passionate because you’re working with people that care and that are excited and want to be here. That communication and that connection are so important.
What really resonates with people at the museum?
Part of our mission is ‘Museum as a Mirror’ — a good museum should reflect the community it is in, making sure that the kids and the families coming through here see their stories and see those connections. They need to feel: ‘This is a museum about me, about where I came from, and why I’m here.’ What I find most fascinating is why people came to the Pikes Peak region. You have Artus Van Briggle, this incredible world-renowned artist — the only reason he came to Colorado Springs was to treat his tuberculosis. [Poet, writer and activist] Helen Hunt Jackson came here for her health, and Dr. [Gerald] Webb also came here because of tuberculosis [and founded the Colorado Foundation for Research in Tuberculosis]. When I’m on tours, whether it’s with kids or adults, I love saying ‘Why are you here? Why do you choose to stay? What’s so special to you?’ I think the story of why people came here is what resonates.
What do you love about the Springs?
People ask about my experience in D.C. versus Colorado Springs. Just for example, in a single Monday, I can go to yoga class; I can go get a great breakfast; I can go on a hike; I can get my grocery shopping done and still have time to do stuff with friends or take my dog for a walk. In D.C. you could only do one of those things — it’s just so hard to get places and there are so many people. We have such accessibility to the outdoors here — if you need to turn off and shut down, you can. Drive to North Cheyenne Cañon and you’re good. Downtown is really exciting; a lot of cool things are happening and I think that’s really a testament to the people here and what we value, and I want to be part of that.
Again, the museum is such a great background to all the growth that’s happening because I think we embody that spirit and people can look back and say, ‘Oh! This is who we’ve always been!’
Let’s keep this up. This is part of our identity, part of our priorities, and it always has been from the day that the city became Colorado Springs.