Aaron Abernethy, 34, said he hopes to answer at least three questions in his lifetime:
Is there other life in the universe?
Can we save the Earth?
Are we going to learn from our mistakes?
“No one will ever know everything,” Abernethy said. “There is always something to learn.”
Abernethy shares his love for Earth and its natural wonders in his work at the Catawba Science Center.
He discovered his love for science in the first grade when his teacher, Ms. Cundiff, inspired him. “She told me once, ‘Be the best you,’ and for a long time, I thought she meant try to improve yourself always,” Abernethy said. “And while I think that’s part of the message, sure, I also think she meant to focus on your strengths and don’t compromise with anything when it comes to your principles.”
Abernethy was raised in Maiden and graduated from Appalachian State in 2008. He earned his master’s degree at East Tennessee State University in 2011.
Abernethy returned to Catawba County in 2013 and accepted a position as an instructor at Lenoir-Rhyne University and at the Catawba Science Center, where he now holds the position of visitors experience coordinator.
“I never grew up,” Abernethy said. “I was always fascinated by the natural world.”
Abernethy said his favorite discipline is paleontology, or the study of life from the past which includes animal and plant fossils. “Everything exists for a reason,” he said.
Abernethy said he’s noticed people in the area have gained knowledge and care more for the environment over the last 10 years. “A lot of people are receptive of climate change,” he said. “It’s a good sign.”
“From a science or religious point of view, this Earth is a gift,” Abernethy said.
Abernethy said he has found people become more interested in science when they meet animals. “Seeing people interact with an animal they’ve never seen or maybe had misconceptions about and to come away with more knowledge and a better appreciation for that creature is a feeling that can’t be described easily,” Abernethy said.
The Catawba Science Center is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Abernethy said the center is seeing some renovations and adding some new features, including updates to exhibits, new decorative features and new tanks for animals.
Abernethy said he is excited for the center to reopen and wants the community to visit and meet his new friend, Ivy the iguana.
What is your favorite animal?
I have a soft spot for the tortoises because I’m also big and slow.
What is the most common question you hear while working at the science center?
Besides, ‘Where is the planetarium?’ They (visitors at the science center) don’t realize there are three or four species of turtle with similar looks. People commonly learn about diversity (in animals).
What motivates you?
I am extremely passionate about educating the public on science matters from the natural world and how humans interact with it, as well as other science fields like technology, medicine, etc. I get the most satisfaction from my job when I interact with people experiencing science through our exhibits, outreaches, and programs.
How do you wish to be remembered?
I hope to be remembered as someone who loved our planet, its uniqueness and gifts to us, as someone who tried to share with others about that world and to spark wonder and love through science education.
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