In the span of a half-hour, Elizabeth Childers rides out a tornado in a cellar, controls the amount of rainfall in Arkansas, has an uneasy brush with a python and takes in a bit of Beethoven played via electric light.
Talk about perks.
Childers, a Museum of Discovery board member who will become chair in 2020, has found a way to incorporate a lifetime love of science into a role with what is, for all intents and purposes, a giant playground.
“This is right in my wheelhouse,” Childers says.
Director of financial and statistical analysis at Dillard’s, Childers is far from the lab-coat-and-glasses-type, but she is every bit the little girl who examined bugs from her yard and read science books in the back of the family car.
Talking up the MOD fundraiser "Spark!: Igniting a Passion for Science, Technology and Math,” Childers raves about her favorite museum exhibits and is soon leading an impromptu tour.
A stop at the tornado wing includes a terrifying stint in a cellar mockup during a recreation of the 1999 storm that hit Little Rock. The experience comes complete with a power outage, startling claps of thunder and the sounds of the house “upstairs” coming apart.
Other Childers favorites include a touchscreen, tabletop map depicting rainfall and water runoff in the state and a visit to the animal husbandry area (only the Little Rock Zoo has more animals, she says), where she pets guinea pigs and keeps a wary eye on a Ball Python.
The grand finale is a visit to the demonstration theater. The darkened room erupts with light when “Ode to Joy” booms fuzzily from the most powerful bi-polar electric Tesla coil in the nation, according to Guinness World Records.
“It will shake your insides,” Childers says.
A Greenwood native and one of four siblings, Childers is a Navy brat — both parents served — who never missed a trip to the Naval Aviation Museum during the family’s time in Pensacola, Florida. To this day she seeks out local museums when traveling.
“My earliest memories, really, are playing with microscopes and making slides of things you’d find in the yard and dissecting bugs,” Childers says.
Her father held a chemistry degree and her parents encouraged her pursuits. Childers remembers a car journey when he pulled over to show her the striations of a cliff formation as she struggled to understand the concepts of sedimentary rock.
“And I feel like kids have those moments here,” she says of the MOD.
Childers earned a double major in chemistry and health science at the University of Arkansas, earned masters degrees in epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Texas and her doctorate in statistics at Arkansas. Through it all she specialized in human behavior.
Childers had been accepted to medical school, but in her last undergraduate class someone mentioned epidemiology, and she dropped her plan to become a physician.
“I can treat people before they get sick?” she says, recalling her thoughts at the time.
Childers worked in pediatrics at UAMS and for the Arkansas Division of Behavioral Health Services before a chance meeting with a Dillard’s executive at a party led her to her current job.
Using her human behavior know-how, she analyzes purchasing habits, the effect of store layouts on shopping choices, ideal store locations and more.
She met MOD CEO Kelley Bass through a mutual friend, who explained to Bass: “She’s a nerd and you house nerds.”
Nov. 13 | 6:30 p.m.
Museum of Discovery
Tickets + Info: MuseumOfDiscovery.org
First a Spark! Star and now Spark! chairman, as well as a member of the MOD board, Childers has put her efforts into fundraising, outreach and STEM education. She notes that within a year, museum visitors — individuals, families, school groups and more — will represent every county in Arkansas.
“Not only are they coming here, we’re going there,” Childers says of the effort to reach all 75 counties with museum programs.
Childers notes with pleasure that, through things like MOD’s Girls in STEM workshop for ages 11-15, STEM participation by girls will triple this year.
“It’s awesome to see girls starting in the seventh grade and now they’re in high school doing the program year after year,” Childers says.
Childers also touts the MOD’s reduced-fee “Museums for All” program that helps with admission for SNAP recipients.
“[It is] giving people knowledge who ordinarily couldn’t afford to come in,” she says. “This is the place for that. An access point to activate kids’ thoughts.”
As she glides through the museum, Childers has a moment that reminds her how her own scientific thoughts were activated. Among the high-tech, hands-on exhibits, she is drawn to something more simple — a modern version of the iconic, ball-and-stick molecular model that has existed in some form for centuries.
“This is what got me into science right here,” Childers says. “This is what chemistry looks like in my head.”