Smrecak named new environmental center director at Camp McDowell

By LEA RIZZO, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 1/14/18

Dr. Trisha Smrecak’s interest in the outdoors led her from collecting rocks on hikes with her father and grandmother in Michigan to serving as the McDowell Environmental Center (MEC) director at Camp McDowell.

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Smrecak named new environmental center director at Camp McDowell

Posted

Dr. Trisha Smrecak’s interest in the outdoors led her from collecting rocks on hikes with her father and grandmother in Michigan to serving as the McDowell Environmental Center (MEC) director at Camp McDowell.

Before becoming the MEC director at the beginning of January, Smrecak had served as the MEC’s curriculum and education manager since August 2016. Originally from Michigan, Smrecak moved to Alabama when her husband, Jesse, found a job in the state and she was still working in Michigan. Once she moved to Alabama — which she said was her “first time below the Mason-Dixon Line” — she ended up at Camp McDowell.

In third grade, Smrecak declared her intention to become a geologist. She said underneath a bed in her family’s cabin is a handmade, wooden container showcasing the rocks she collected while out on hikes with her family.

“I’ve been collecting rocks forever and I didn’t know what I was ever going to do with it or what you did. I just knew I wanted to know more,” Smrecak said.

She explained that her involvement in education stems from her enjoyment of communicating and a desire to help make science more understandable, especially for children.

Smrecak’s love of informal education is what initially led her to Camp McDowell. “My training is as a geologist,” she explained. “I’m a paleontologist so I study fossils.”

Smrecak received her undergrad degree at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York, her Masters degree at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio and her PhD at Michigan State University.

“When I went back and got my Ph.D, I focused on paleontology, but I also focused on geo-science education,” she said, which helps explain “what works when teaching people about various sciences. ... How do we teach these things in ways that are non-threatening and open and accepting but also help people make sense of the information? That’s where my passion came from and how I got involved in informal education overall.”

Smrecak said it’s been really exciting to be named the new MEC director, but that it is different compared to her role before.

“I was in the position before of [figuring out] how can we implement changes on the ground today? Now I’m thinking what can we do today that’s going to keep our program excellent five years from now,” she explained.

As director of the MEC, Smrecak said she “wears a lot of hats,” which includes recruiting and maintaining an excellent staff, thinking ahead in terms of keeping McDowell in-step with educational advances, fundraising and marketing.

As far as her future plans for the MEC, Smrecak said she’s still getting used to the position.

“I have some big ideas, but I think an important thing for a director is to not come in and stir the pot on a really well-working system,” she added. However, Smrecak hopes to expand McDowell’s scholarship opportunities so the camp can reach as many children as possible as well as expand and diversify the camp’s seasonal staff.