If you’ve read our blog before today, you have almost certainly encountered the work of Museum Educator Pat McShea. Pat has written more than 125 blog posts over the past seven years and in 2020 took on the role of editor. Pat is retiring today, and we couldn’t think of a more fitting tribute than a blog post. His work has only changed our blog for the better and we are so grateful for all the time and effort he has put in over the years.
The earliest post tagged with Pat’s name was published in February 2016 and is called Blue Fleece Jacket. It links field work to life in Pittsburgh with a piece of clothing – a blue fleece jacket. And that’s fitting because one of Pat’s great skills is connecting. Whether it’s scientific topics, people, or random ideas, if there’s a relevant connection, Pat can find it and will share it.
But Pat has done so much more than write for and edit this blog. His primary role is as Program Officer for the Learning Collection (known for many years as the Educator Loan Collection). He was hired in 1985 as a part-time assistant for the Learning Collection and shortly thereafter as part-time gift shop staff. He took over full-time management of the Learning Collection in 1986. He has loaned items to thousands of teachers, librarians, naturalists, park rangers, artists, and home school parents over the years, and in the process has created lasting relationships while giving learners who might never make it to the museum the opportunity to engage with natural history.
Pat and his wife Amy Henrici, Collection Manager of Vertebrate Paleontology, are retiring and the museum won’t be the same without them. They are both kind, generous with their time and knowledge, and always a joy to talk to. We will miss them!
Memories and Stories
Pat has made a significant impact on the museum community and beyond. When asked the best advice he can share with his education colleagues, he quoted poet and author Mary Oliver: “Pay attention.” And it’s clear from the stories collected below that when Pat is around, people pay attention. Please note, there are many, many people who could contribute here; this is a small sampling of Pat’s impact.
“Pat has always guided students of all ages (myself included) to observe the traits and behaviors of plants and animals first; then later discover their names. In the fast-paced world of “what is this/that?” Pat shows us that if we slow down and focus our attention, we will begin to discover the amazing intricate details of our natural world and be better suited to tell stories about what we observe.” -Joe Stavish, Director of Education at Tree Pittsburgh (former senior environmental educator at Powdermill Nature Reserve)
“I met Pat in the winter of 1984-85 [I think] through a mutual friend, relying on his outdoor expertise to buy my first cross country skis at a shop in Shadyside where he worked. I hired him in October 1985 to be my part time assistant in the Educator Loan Collection – mostly moving all the heavy cases around for me. So I was his first supervisor, but also his last(!), because he was hired full-time as head of the collection when I decided not to return from maternity leave in May 1986.
My son Paul felt like he grew up at the museum as I worked on various freelance projects there, due largely because Pat always made time to share with him interesting info and the occasional cast-off from the collection. Coming full circle, when Paul was a high school senior, Pat took him on and mentored him for a weeks-long senior project.
Always kind, always the educator, always radiating gentle humor – that’s Pat McShea!” – Laura Beattie, Program Specialist for The Leonard S. Mudge Environmental Education Program, 1981-1985, then Program Specialist for the Educational Loan Collection 1985-1986, freelancer for the museum from 1986-1996
“One of the most enduring lessons that Pat has shared with us is to be more curious and less afraid. This wisdom came to light secondhand from a 5-year-old summer camper who, in an end-of-camp reflection, was asked by their camp instructor what was most memorable about their time at camp. They said it was the day that Mr. Pat came to teach about bees, and explained that when he is afraid of something it makes him feel better to ask questions about it. During the camp visit, Pat spoke to a common concern that prevents many people from looking more closely at insects: fear. By making space to talk about feelings, then inviting all kinds of questions, Pat helped all of the campers learn something new. As a colleague, Pat models curiosity in the face of scary subject matter all the time. It’s been essential for the projects on climate change education that he’s worked on over the last 15 years. During the Covid-19 pandemic, this philosophy was essential. Even as we planned for his retirement, Pat has provided reassuring answers to our many questions about how to manage the Learning Collection – most importantly that the curiosity of the educators and students has always pointed the way and will continue to do so.” – Laurie Giarratani, Director of Learning and Community
“I think ALL of the time about the lasting impact that Pat had on both young learners and adult staff when he encouraged a group of 5-year-old summer campers who were expressing some fear and anxiety about bees to lean into curiosity when they find themselves scared of something (because when you ask questions and learn more, it’s usually going to calm your fears). That moment (maybe 5 years ago now?!) was the genesis of the ongoing summer camp mantra of “more curious = less afraid.” -Breann Thompson, Associate Director, Learning and Community Programs
“One of Pat’s talents that made him so successful in his job is his ability to absorb information quickly. When I was getting my Master’s in Geology at the University of Pittsburgh, Pat would help me study for tests by quizzing me. I can still remember him asking me for the eight or so characteristics of deep-sea sediments. As I was slowly trying to come up with the list, I realized that Pat didn’t have to check my notes to see if I was correct, because he already had memorized the information ahead of me. Pat thus acquired considerable knowledge about geology while helping me study for tests.” – Amy Henrici, Collection Manager of Vertebrate Paleontology (and Pat’s wife)
“Pat is a naturalist poet who reminds us that every hike promises revelations around every corner, as long as we’re patient and observant. After encountering Pat’s words and work, you don’t look at the world with the same eyes. In the words of Norman MacClean, it’s a world with dew still on it.
Pat, thank you for reminding so many of us that it’s a world with dew still on it waiting for us to make our own discoveries.” – Sloan MacRae, Director of Marketing and Communications
“It’s impossible to talk about Pat without noting his incredible generosity. He doesn’t just learn and retain information – he eagerly shares it, without fail, with friends, family, colleagues, visitors, learners, everyone. He observes, he listens, he remembers, and he follows up. When a colleague marvels over something he’s written, or remembers a special moment when Pat sought them out to share something, or receives a word of encouragement from Pat during a hard time, that’s the magic of Pat McShea. He’s the most genuine, generous person, and we are all better for working and learning alongside him.” – Jessica Romano, Museum Education Writer
“So one random week last year, Pat KEPT repeating the fact to me that the Haudenosaunee people waited until their corn plants were the size of a squirrel’s ear before planting the beans.
Over and over and over again. It was really odd but I pushed it out of my brain.
That was a mistake.
When he was leading his workshop at the start of the next week, he got out a piece of corn, made a remark about how plants, animals, and natural cycles all tie together. He turns to me and goes “JOHN! When did the Haudenosaunee plant their beans!?”
He’s all smiles. He KNOWS I’ve got this. He’s trained me for this.
And I completely utterly flopped. No idea. Brain blank. No lights on. The hamster is gone and all that’s left is a goldfish flopping around.
So this madman pulls out a taxidermy of a squirrel. I don’t know where it came from, probably summoned it out of the Aether.
He holds it up in front of me and goes “a SQUIRREL’S EAR, John! Come on!!” and everyone starts laughing.” – John Bitsura, Offsite Program Manager
“Pat’s retirement represents the loss of a significant voice for Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Contemplating the museum’s future without Pat led me to revisit some of his blogs on the web. One of my personal favorites is “A Gorilla For Our Imagination”. It relates the back story of the silverback male lowland gorilla in the Hall of African Wildlife, “George” who died of natural causes at the Pittsburgh Zoo in 1979. Pat wrote that the important role of this taxidermy ‘is as an educational tool capable of holding eye contact, and thereby encouraging contemplation. In staring contests that the glass-eyed mount never loses, the gorilla represents all its wild kind, the entire population of our planet’s largest primates, close relative of modern humans, and a group whose continued existence is increasingly threatened by illegal hunting, habitat loss, and disease.’ Pat’s insightful words speak volumes about the museum’s exhibits.” – John Wible, Curator of Mammals
“I worked with Pat McShea in education at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History for ten years and continued to work with him for the next twenty years while using “his” amazing educational loan collection and other resources he provided in my classroom. The museum and community were lucky to have Pat in education for many years because he took a wonderful program like the loan collection and made it even better. Adjectives that describe Pat include kind, inquisitive, kind, helpful, kind, smart, kind, organized, kind, dependable, fun, and did I mention kind? If you are around Pat, it is guaranteed that you will learn something and I would say that a lot of what I know about wildlife and nature is because of Pat. Knowing him and working with him made me a better teacher. He loves the natural world and all the creatures in it and shares his knowledge in many creative ways. (He also makes the best Irish soda bread you will ever taste!)” – Linda Vitale, Natural history docent and teacher from 1983-1993, Museum on the Move volunteer until 2020
“Pat’s wealth of knowledge has been invaluable to us as the Allegheny County Park Rangers. His dedication and passion for education shows in everything he does. From suggesting loan materials to use for a specific program to sharing educational resources and articles, Pat has made an immense impact on all of our staff members. I think it is shown best by the number of seasonal Park Rangers who move on from being Rangers but continue to use the loan collection and Pat’s expertise at other positions. It has been an honor and a privilege to be able to work with Pat.” – Elise Cupps, Education & Outreach Coordinator at Allegheny County Parks
“Amidst the museum’s larger than life history, exhibits, collections and research, Pat’s attention has always been for the learner’s engagement with some aspect of what the climate, plants, animals, and humans might be doing in any season. For example, when working on tabletop exhibits about climate change, Pat noticed that people like to find their homes on maps. He connected that interest to a phenomenon that he and Amy were seeing on their drive to and from work, the morning exodus of crows from the city and evening return of the noisy birds in their dark flocks. He made a climate connection to the urban heat island effect that makes city roosts especially desirable. Given their daily flight patterns, numbers and vocal presence, Pat figured a small prompt “Where have you noticed crows?” might help people become curious about the connection. The regional map, combined with a heat map, crow specimen from ed loan collection and some fun stories about how crows roost and who gets the lower, poopy branches of the trees, came together as a prototype activity in Basecamp where Pat continued to observe people’s responses and chat with those who wanted to share.
His quiet, thoughtful approach to finding openings for thinking like a naturalist, being inspired by nature around us, and drawing on museum resources, are treasured memories of my time at CMNH. An email in the morning from Pat, with a quote, article of interest, or photo causes me to pause and reflect on Pat’s awe for nature and his constant desire to understand what inspires others. Can’t wait to see how this continues in his future endeavors!” – Mary Ann Steiner, Research Associate with the Climate Rural Systems Partnership (CRSP)
“I was asked to share something about Pat from the time I worked with him, which was through 1999 when I left CMNH. If there were dramatic or funny stories to tell, I’ve forgotten them. This, however, attests to Pat’s character. He isn’t one to look for ways to draw attention. He’s steady, reliable, always helpful, generous in sharing his knowledge, and appreciated by educators throughout the area and staff throughout the Carnegie. This was true when I worked with Pat and I’m sure it continued. Oh yes, there was that time when I was greeted with a life-sized human skeleton model at my desk when I arrived at work on my 40th birthday. Quite a sight, courtesy of Pat!” – Judi Bobenage, former Chair of the Division of Education
“As Pat held up the miniscule mink skull, I knew this lesson would be ‘gold’ for my students. It’s rare to find professional development in the Life Sciences that’s so engaging, informative, and relevant, and Pat’s class on identifying and studying mammal bones sparked a lesson which I still use with my middle school students every year! Though he’s leaving CMNH, Pat’s passions for all things outdoors will live on in classrooms around the Pittsburgh area and beyond. Thanks for all you’ve done, Pat. You will be missed!” – Christian Shane, North Allegheny educator
If you’re looking to read more of Pat’s own words, here are a few of our favorite blog posts he’s written. Happy reading!
Carnegie Museum of Natural History Blog Citation InformationBlog author: Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Publication date: December 29, 2023