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The Perot Museum’s CEO Wants to Help More Women Discover New Dinosaurs

Dr. Linda Abraham-Silver on encouraging young girls to go into STEM careers, and discovering a pygmy tyrannosaurid.

You’ve been the CEO of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science for almost two years. Which coastline do you miss most? The Pacific Ocean, where you grew up in California; the Persian Gulf, where you worked to develop the science education platform for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi; or Lake Erie, where you were CEO of the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland?
[laughs] I would say they each have their charms at different parts of the year, right? So I love to be on the Arabian Gulf in December, because it’s 75 degrees and beautiful. I would not wanna be on the shores of Lake Erie in the wintertime at all, but it’s lovely in the spring. And, yeah, California’s home, so it’s beautiful always.

What’s your favorite dinosaur?
Mine was Triceratops, which, it turns out, probably never existed. Oh, my gosh. You know, I’m so boring. When I was little, it was a T. rex, but I would say now it’s either our Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum or it’s our Nanuqsaurus hoglundi, which is a pygmy tyrannosaurid. It’s super cool. But I like them because we’re the ones that have the holotype. Our scientists here at the Perot Museum discovered and named those species, and so they’re both unique.

Wait, what?
Did you not know that? You need to come upstairs to our fourth floor. Labor Day weekend we opened a new paleontology lab, and we opened it as an exposed lab in our dinosaur hall. So all of the fossils that are collected over the summer—most of our work is done up in Alaska and comes back down here to Dallas—is being worked on in front of visitors, so that you can actually see the work as it’s going on. And we’re really excited, because one of these chunks seems to have a new skull in it.

The Perot recently teamed up with the Lyda Hill Philanthropies’ If/Then initiative, which is trying to encourage girls and young women to go into STEM careers. As a woman of science yourself, what works?
There’s a lot of data that will say that for girls to really wanna pursue that route in life, that they need to have strong, positive role models. And when you look around at things like the media in particular, science is typically presented as being done by males—often white males, often older white males—in isolated laboratories. All things that kind of turn girls off, right? We tend to like to work collaboratively, and we rarely show science as being done that way, even though in the lab that’s truly the way that it works.

As the first museum involved, how do you depict women differently?
We were a little embarrassed when we looked around and saw that, as we looked at the videos and images in the museum, when we talked about scientists, about 65 percent of the time we were talking about men. And so we’ve made a commitment to ensure that when you come to the Perot Museum from now on, 50 percent of the scientists’ profiles that you see, whether that’s in a photograph or a video or something else, will be a woman who’s working in a STEM career.

What about real-life role models?
This was not on purpose, but it’s great serendipity. The paleo lab that I just spoke to you about? We have four full-time paleo-preparators, we call them—the people who deal with all of the fossils and pull them out of their matrix. People don’t necessarily think of that kind of dirty, gritty work as work that’s interesting to women. And three of the four who work for us are female, which is really exciting for us.

“The Art of the Brick” exhibition, which runs through August 18 at the Perot, has been a sellout. Did you play with Legos as a kid?
You know, I did. I built them with my dad. And then my kids, of course, have played with Legos that are these incredible sets now. But they were not fancy when I was growing up. I mean, as far as that goes, if you got a slanted Lego, that was fancy.

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