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Annual Report | Tourism: Science educator enjoys sharing his knowledge with tourists

Daniel Schnackenberg, 12, watches instructor James Owens describe how to test which car is faster during Headwaters Science Center's Summer Science Club. Kayla Prasek|Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI - From teaching educational programs to filling out grant applications to gathering water samples, no two days are ever the same for James Owens.

Owens, 51, is a science educator at Headwaters Science Center in downtown Bemidji, where he has worked for seven years.

A typical day for Owens starts with getting the floor ready to be open for the day, he said.

"We clean the animal cages and make sure everything is ready to go," Owens said. "From there, it depends on the day."

Some days, Owens spends working on grant applications. Others he spends doing water sampling.

Owens's favorite days are those when he has a program to teach, he said.

"They're a way to teach that there's a fun way to see science," Owens said. "We get a lot of school trips in here."

While April and May are filled with field trip groups, Owens said summer is HSC's busiest time.

"During the summer, we get a lot of tourists," Owens said. "The weather is really what drives them to us. If it's blazing heat, they come here looking for a place to cool off; and if it's raining, they come here to let the kids run around."

While much of his work is with children, Owens said the tourists are a refreshing change of pace.

"I have a lot of conversations with children, and I love them," Owens said. "But I learn a lot from tourists, too. This is a place where knowledge is not nerdy. It's expected here. It's a good thing."

To encourage everyone who comes through the door to share their knowledge, Owens said the center is more relaxed in the summer.

"On rainy days, some families will stay all day long," Owens said. "We get to know the families. It's interesting to see all the family dynamics and social interactions."

Owens said his goal, whether he's showing a family how to use an exhibit or teaching a class, is to always encourage learning.

"When they're having fun, you just sneak the learning in," Owens said.

This summer, Owens will be helping build a nanotechnology exhibit and instructing the Engineering Innovations Camp and the Summer Science Club.

"The camps are always fun," Owens said. "These kids receive a formal education nine months out of the year. We take a different approach here - a more informal approach."

It was these aspects which brought Owens to HSC, he said.

"I really love the creative elements, and I get to see a lot of that in the programs and exhibits," Owens said. "It's a way to see different things. It's really what drew me here - the creative stuff."

Owens said he never knows who is going to walk through the door, and as a result, he learns something every day.

"I do this not because I have to work but because I like it," Owens said. "I love being around the children, and it's meaningful work."