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Debra Colodner, Ph.D.
Director of Conservation Education & Science
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Debra Colodner joined the staff at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum as Director of Education in 2006 and in 2012 became director of Conservation Education and Science. The department is a hub for research, education and conservation of the Sonoran Desert Region. As Director, Debra oversees the Museum's interpretive and educational programs, conservation science and outreach, as well as the non-living collections, including a highly esteemed regional mineral collection.

Debra has more than 20 years experience in environmental research and education. Debra holds a Ph.D. in Chemical Oceanography from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where she focused on the use of ocean sediments as indicators of past climate change. She also has a B.S. in Geology and Geophysics from Yale University, where she won the Penfield Prize in Mineralogy. She was awarded a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, where she continued her research on ocean sediments, studied hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean, managed a new research lab and began her teaching experience.

Debra has adopted an interdisciplinary and research-based approach to education, attempting to incorporate research on how people learn and best teaching practices into designs for programs and exhibits. She used these ideas when she led a team of faculty in the design of Columbia University's Earth Semester program at Biosphere 2 Center, an interdisciplinary immersion in Earth Systems Science and Policy for college students from around the country. She ran this program for 5 years, during which it served over 500 students and gained national recognition via educational journals and conferences.

Prior to her current position at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Debra gained experience in museum education and administration at Flandrau Science Center at the University of Arizona, first as their Education Director and then as Associate Director. At Flandrau, she managed school programs and spearheaded development of the educational philosophy and exhibits approach for a new science center to be built in downtown Tucson (ultimately, this project did not go ahead). This project afforded the opportunity to interact with and learn from leaders in museum education from around the world.

At the Desert Museum, Debra has helped to build financial support for the Museum's education programs by increasing grant support and building new partnerships with individuals, businesses and foundations to help replace declining school funding. She has also helped support the efforts of talented Museum staff in expanding cultural programming and research through collaborations with community partners and bringing in external funding. After a raft of simultaneous retirements in the Museum's conservation and science department, she has been working to build this back up with early-career scientists who are focused on developing a science program that is responsive to and involves local communities. Current educational efforts include revision of the Museum's school programs to add technology, engineering and math to science and conservation in engaging and creative ways. She has successfully led teams in winning support from NSF, NASA, EPA, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Motorola, JP Morgan Chase, Annenberg, Nina-Mason Pulliam Trust, and various community foundations among other funding providers.