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New Headwaters Science Center director hopes to continue legacy in unique setting

Susan Joy, executive director at the Headwaters Science Center, assumed her new position June 18 after founder/director Laddie Elwell's retirement. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI - Working in science outreach is a dream come true for Susan Joy.

Joy, 35, started as the Headwaters Science Center's new executive director June 18, after the center's founder/director Laddie Elwell retired.

Joy came to Bemidji from Flagstaff, Ariz., where she was the community services manager for the Northern Arizona Council of Governments.

"This job, this opportunity, is really why I'm here," Joy said. "My background is in science, and I've always loved science outreach. This job is really a dream come true."

Joy grew up in Idaho and graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, Minn., with a degree in geology. She later earned a master's degree in geology from the University of Montana in Missoula.

"I did a lot of odd jobs until I went to graduate school," Joy said.

Her curiosity ultimately led her to apply for the executive director position at Headwaters Science Center, Joy said.

"I gravitate towards people," Joy said. "I ask a lot of questions about how things work."

Headwaters Science Center is also a place where Joy can make a difference, she said.

"I've always wanted to be part of something that gives back," Joy said. "I've always had a passion for nonprofit work. I wanted to be part of something that's bigger than me."

Her first two weeks at Headwaters Science Center have mainly consisted of sitting down with each of the staff members, Joy said.

"I wanted to know what each of their visions are for the center and what it means to them," Joy said.

While she hasn't made any changes yet, Joy said her goal is to continue with the tradition Elwell started.

"We provide an experience visitors won't get at a bigger center," Joy said. "We provide excellent programming, and I plan on continuing the tradition of excellent yet approachable science. I would like to see us grow and expand, whether it's a new building or staying in our current spot."

Joy said all she knew about Headwaters Science Center when she accepted the job was that it was a special and unique science center.

"I knew a lot of people were very committed to this place," Joy said. "It's a small science center in a small town and the people are very invested in it. The scientists are on the floor, not in an office, interacting with everyone, which is unique."

Joy previously worked at a science center and said the staff at Headwaters Science Center is more passionate.

"There's a lot more vibrancy at this science center," Joy said. "They do an awesome job with programming and outreach too."

Joy said she's looking forward to her children growing up in Bemidji.

"It's comfortable here, and anyone can have fun at the science center no matter what age they are," Joy said. "Flagstaff is a town of 60,000 people and some days I didn't know what to do with my 4 year old and 2 year old. There's just so much for them to do here."