Debra Colodner joined the staff at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum as Director of Education in 2006 and in 2012 became Director of Conservation Education and Science. The department is a hub for research, education and conservation of the Sonoran Desert Region. As Director, Debra oversees the Museum's interpretive and educational programs, conservation science and outreach, as well as the non-living collections, including a highly esteemed regional mineral collection.
Debra has more than 20 years of experience in environmental research and education. Debra holds a Ph.D. in Chemical Oceanography from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where she focused on the use of ocean sediments as indicators of past climate change. She also has a B.S. in Geology and Geophysics from Yale University, where she won the Penfield Prize in Mineralogy. She was awarded a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, where she continued her research on ocean sediments, studied hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean, managed a new research lab and began her teaching experience.
Debra has adopted an interdisciplinary and research-based approach to education, attempting to incorporate research on how people learn and best teaching practices into designs for programs and exhibits. She used these ideas when she led a team of faculty in the design of Columbia University's Earth Semester program at Biosphere 2 Center, an interdisciplinary immersion in Earth Systems Science and Policy for college students from around the country. She ran this program for 5 years, during which it served over 500 students and gained national recognition via educational journals and conferences.
Following Biosphere, Debra moved to Flandrau Science Center at the University of Arizona, first as their Education Director and then as Associate Director. At Flandrau, she managed educational programs and spearheaded development of the educational philosophy and exhibits approach for a new science center to be built in downtown Tucson This project afforded the opportunity to interact with and learn from leaders in museum education from around the world.
At the Desert Museum, Debra has helped to increase financial support for the Museum’s science and education programs by building new partnerships with individuals, businesses and foundations, and has worked with department staff to expand cultural programming and research through collaborations with community partners. She has successfully led teams in winning support from federal, state, corporate and private foundations. The Museum’s current research programs focus on control of invasive buffelgrass and effective restoration of habitat for native pollinators.
Debra joined the Museum Board over 10 years ago.