Lauren Beatty: Adventure Is Out There


We met with Lauren Beatty, conservation education coordinator for the WAVE Foundation for the Newport Aquarium, at the picturesque Carew Tower Arcade. She’s had a fascination with the tower since she was a child, and this day was no exception. We basked in the art deco splendor of the arcade and took our time admiring the many intricate mosaics around us. As we made our way to Palm Court, we all agreed that we wished that we were wearing glamorous and glittering dresses to match the glamorous décor. We sat down at one of the tables with the dramatic palm couch and turned our minds back to the present day, to Lauren, who, it should come as no surprise, was just as lovely and interesting as our surroundings.

Interview by Tracy Van Wagner. Photography by Dawn Borntrager.

First, please tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a little bit involved in everything right now. I am the full-time conservation education coordinator for the WAVE Foundation at the Newport Aquarium – the WAVE Foundation has been around since the aquarium opened. In my spare time, I do a lot of other things, as well: I work part time at the Cincinnati Zoo leading overnights. I also work part time for a local company called Explorer Chick. They're a women-only adventure tour operator that goes around the world. It’s incredible!

What made you choose the Carew Arcade as the location for photography today?

I chose Carew Tower, and specifically the arcade, because it has a lot of memories from my family. I grew up coming down here with my dad. I was fascinated by downtown as a West Chester suburban kid. We would come down here every year for Christmas. We’d always come into Carew Tower and look at the lights, the tree, and the mosaics. I just adored it! As a kid, my dad would let me kind of explore on my own, so I would run off and leave him in the dust. I picked my way around this building, would go in every door that was unlocked, and probably get in a lot of trouble, looking back on it now. I thought this was the most beautiful building I had ever been in.

It has a little bit of extra meaning behind it, too. The Netherland Plaza was where my mom's senior prom was. So, my dad and my mom came to prom here in 1978, which is kind of awesome. Every corner you turn in this building, there's something new that you haven't seen before. I was wandering the building before you got here and I found a hallway that I hadn't gotten down before and I was super pumped.

Lauren Beatty at Palm Court

Tell us about your journey from getting a degree in anthropology to becoming education coordinator for the WAVE Foundation.

Like probably a lot of people, my path has been really windy and convoluted to end up where I am today, but I've loved every second of it. I started off getting my degree in anthropology from Georgia State University down in Atlanta. I had this image in my head that I was going to be Indiana Jones out in a field doing archaeology. That’s a little difficult to do when you have family and two cats and a dog. You can't just run away to the desert all the time to actually do digs. I realized rather quickly that I wasn’t going to do archaeology professionally. So, I switched gears and figured I'd be the “That belongs in a museum!” version of Indiana Jones; I wanted to work in a museum. I managed bars in New Orleans for a little while before I finally moved home and got that first job at Cincinnati Museum Center.

I had this image in my head that I was going to be Indiana Jones out in a field doing archaeology. That’s a little difficult to do when you have family and two cats and a dog.

I worked in their Museum of Natural History and Science for about two years before I moved into their history museum and then finally into their education department. I loved being able to share all the cool things that the Museum Center has in their collections with all the students that were coming in – many of whom had never been to the museum before. I figured out that teaching is where I wanted to be. Kind of in that same vein, I started working part time at the Cincinnati Zoo doing their overnights, so, teaching again, just a different topic. I really fell in love with sharing their animals and their conservation message to everyone that came in.

I made the decision after about three and a half years of working at Cincinnati Museum Center to kind of switch gears and look for full-time work in zoos and aquariums. I wound up back in Georgia at the Georgia Aquarium for a little while, which I absolutely loved! You can’t beat working with whale sharks, Beluga whales, and dolphins every day. But I had the opportunity, about two years ago, to move back to Cincinnati and work with the Newport Aquarium and the WAVE Foundation, and I jumped at the chance to move back home.

Tell us about the WAVE Foundation.

WAVE Foundation is the nonprofit partner of Newport Aquarium, and we do all of their volunteer work, all of their education, and all of their conservation activities. Our biggest program is WAVE on Wheels, where we actually take African penguins, sharks, stingrays, and a variety of reptiles out to schools, libraries, daycare centers, and senior centers and share Newport Aquarium’s animals with our community. It's very difficult, sometimes, to bridge the gap that is the Ohio River and get people to come across to see our animals. A lot of times, there's students that live within a two-mile radius who have never seen these animals before. [WAVE on Wheels] is such an incredible opportunity for us to share the animals with kids who would never get to see them otherwise. A lot of it is grant-funded, which makes it even better. A lot of these schools aren't paying a dime to have a penguin come to their classroom.

What would be your top two pieces of advice for Midwesterners who want to help protect these animals?

The number one thing that we're talking about right now is single-use plastics. We’re trying to educate people on why single-use plastics are an issue and how they're ending up in our oceans. One of the things we have started is selling reusable metal straws. It was actually started by one of our summer camp campers. She's 13 years old; her name is Gracie, and she had the idea to start selling reusable straws to people after seeing a video of sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose. She was heartbroken that this would happen. She really kind of spearheaded this entire project and raised thousands of dollars that she donated last summer to a sea turtle center in the Carolinas.

Number two is being conscious of the choices you make when you shop. One of the programs that we are involved in is partnered with Monterey Bay Aquarium. It's called Seafood Watch, and it's asking people to be cognizant of where their seafood is coming from: whether it's at a restaurant or they're purchasing at their local Kroger, making sure that they're choosing seafood that is caught or fished in a sustainable and responsible manner instead of choosing from fish that are being overfished or are under threat right now.

Can you tell us more about what you, specifically, do?

The main part of my job at WAVE Foundation is running our camp program: Camp WAVE. It is a spring, summer, and winter break camp. It's for kids in kindergarten all the way up through high school to come and spend a week at the aquarium and learn about our animals, do hands on science experiments, and really just get up close and personal with what being a biologist at an aquarium is like.

I also do a job shadow program called the Career Exploration Initiative where we invite students to come behind the scenes at the aquarium for two hours and really get a hands-on look at what it's like to work here. One of my favorite ones that we do is called Women in STEM, and it focuses on all the women who work at Newport Aquarium. Most of the keepers and the biologists at zoos and aquariums are women. So, it's really great to be able to show these girls that, if you want to be an animal keeper or work at a zoo and aquarium, you can, and here's someone who's doing it. It’s great to be able to connect them face-to-face with role models.

Kind of along the same line, there is a shark club for girls that I started. We partnered with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy out of Massachusetts and we offer, every other month, a girls-only, shark-focused club called Gills Club. Girls 6 to 13 [years old] come to the aquarium on a Saturday every other month and spend two hours with all their friends around sharks. It's absolutely incredible! We offer it at no cost whatsoever.


Any plans on doing, like, a ladies aquarium club?

That would be a lot of fun! Most of my stuff at the aquarium and at the zoo is focused on kids, which is why working for Explorer Chick is so much fun. It gives me adult time. We have an incredible time going to the coolest places in the world. This summer alone I've been to Virginia and the Smoky Mountains and a billion trips down the Red River Gorge. Every group is drastically different, really rambunctious, and badass! They’re absolutely incredible.

I’m not really an outdoors person, but, if it were a group of women on an easy hike, I could be convinced to give it a try.

That’s exactly what it is! It's making the outdoors more accessible, because that's a really big hurdle for a lot of women to get over. So many times in your personal life or in college you might have gone out on a hike, to the woods, or to a cabin with a group of friends. There's always that guy trying to tell you how to do everything, telling you that you're building the fire wrong or setting up the tent wrong.

There's always that guy trying to tell you how to do everything, telling you that you're building the fire wrong or setting up the tent wrong.

Explorer Chick removes that barrier. It's all girls. Everyone's learning together. We’ve never had a Negative Nancy or Debbie Downer. They really cultivate a friendly group of people. So, it makes it more fun. It makes it less scary.

What is something you would want our readers to know about the Newport Aquarium?

Newport Aquarium is really great about taking the small space that they inhabit and changing it constantly. I've been there for just about two years, and in those two years, two new exhibits opened with entirely brand new spaces and brand new animals. So if you haven’t been in two or three years, there's a good chance that there are animals and exhibits there that you've never seen before.

I think the coolest part is that since it's a smaller space, it's a lot more intimate and there's a lot more opportunities for our volunteers to engage with the people that are coming to see these animals, which you miss out on at the larger aquariums. I know, for example, at the Georgia Aquarium, there was no opportunity for that whatsoever; they had hundreds of thousands of people coming through the door. While the Newport Aquarium does get busy during the holidays and during school breaks and things like that, there's always someone down there who’s happy to talk to you about the animals.

What’s it like working with penguins?

They're really fun to hang out with and [it’s fun to] get to know their individual personalities. We've got seven penguins; they're all girls. It definitely can feel a little bit like their own little club sometimes. Every once in a while, they'll be best friends with another one of the penguins. For example, Green Bean and Blueberry might be best friends today. Next week, it might be totally different. They’re constantly moving around and changing their social structure.

They are smarter than people give them credit for. They absolutely know who you are and who they're working with. They have favorites. It's funny to watch them progress as they get to know you. We've got one penguin named Speckles. She's one of our youngest penguins; she's got the hot pink armband on. She did not like me for the longest time! She only liked boys; she would only work with the men that came into work with the penguins. Within the last six months, she has completely flip-flopped. She adores me now, and I have no idea what I did to earn her love. I’m happy it happened because now she’s the sweetest bird in the world. She runs over every time I walk in and asks for pats and scratches.

They’re definitely an interesting animal to work with. Out of all the animals that I've worked with in the past, they are probably the most challenging. Birds are tough. You really have to build a relationship with them. That way, you’re able to work with them and take them out of the building and go to classrooms and have them trust that you're going to keep them safe.


Which of your projects is the closest to your heart?

It’s a tie between Gills Club and the Explorer Chick trips. Gills Club and Explorer Chick are both very different programs. The thing that ties them both together is that it's really empowering girls and women to do something that's not typically associated with girls and women. So, for Gills Club, it's encouraging girls and telling them, “Yes, it's okay that you think sharks are awesome.”

So many of these girls come into our club and they're like, “All the boys at school told me that I'm not allowed to like sharks because I'm a girl.” That's ridiculous! You can like whatever animal you want. Sharks are awesome animals, so why wouldn't you like them? So, just giving them that validation and empowering them to say, “No, I love sharks! I know way more than you do about them because I go to this club.”

Yes, it's okay that you think sharks are awesome.

Explorer Chick is kind of the same way. There are so many times that you go to an outdoor store, or you run into a guy on the trail and they just are out there to conquer the wilderness and they’re absolutely ridiculous about it! Explorer Chick really removes that barrier and makes it easier for women to go outside; feel comfortable; feel like they know what they're doing and can take care of themselves. I think it's just really cool that both of them are empowering girls in different ways.

Tell us about a woman who has had an influence on your life.

I think that one’s going to have to be a tie, too. It’s my mom and my grandmas. All three of them are very different, but are very strong, outspoken, and loving women. If I had to pick one of the three, it would probably be my dad's mom. She amazes me. She moved to Cincinnati from rural southern Kentucky at 16 years old all by herself. She stayed at her aunt's boarding house and got a job so she could mail money back to her parents and her younger siblings. Looking back on that is just mind boggling! I can't imagine moving somewhere at 16, alone, to a new city – especially from a rural area to a big bustling city like Cincinnati – and sending money back like that and being responsible for helping take care of your family in that way. That just blows my mind that she was brave enough at that time to do that. Not a typical role for a 16-year-old girl to play during that time or this time.

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