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What she support:
Science and research at Powdermill Nature Reserve
Why it matters:
“When you take someone to experience bird banding, their eyes pop out of their head. When you get the chance to hold and then release a bird in the name of science, it’s something you never forget.”
In the early 1970s, when the youngest of her three sons entered third grade, Margot Woodwell was considering her next big adventure. The University of Pittsburgh had only recently announced it was accepting female applicants for its graduate program in business, she recalls, and when the Vassar alumna called friend and then-Carnegie Museums President Jim Walton for a letter of recommendation, he instead offered her a job.
“The museum was planning the opening of the Scaife Galleries and he told me they needed to greatly increase the number of volunteers they had,” says Margot, who at the time was active in the Women’s Committee at Carnegie Museum of Art. “He asked if I wanted to set up a volunteer program, and didn’t I say yes!”
She worked part-time for two years, establishing a department to serve both Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History and developing a recruitment process for what would become the Museum of Art’s esteemed docent program. Living in Pittsburgh’s East End, Margot, her late husband William (“Bird,” as she calls him), and their boys frequented the Carnegie Museums on the weekends, just as she did as a child. As a busy mom juggling an eventual 18-year career as development director and then station manager at nearby WQED, she didn’t get more intimately involved with the museums again until she and her husband retired in the mid-1990s and relocated to Ligonier. It was there that Margot became a force for science.
She almost immediately began volunteering at nearby Powdermill Nature Reserve, the Museum of Natural History’s environmental field station world-renowned for its bird-banding program and avian research. Her heart was forever captured.
With a pair of friends, she relocated the annual off-site birdhouse auction (the precursor to today’s Trailblazer event) to Powdermill, raising its stature as a fundraiser and reminding people that, in addition to being well-positioned for Appalachia-specific studies in ornithology, ecology, invertebrate zoology, and botany, it’s also a great place to spend a fun-filled day outdoors.
Soon she was recruited to serve as chair of Powdermill’s advisory committee, a board she still leads, by a legendary Powdermill champion, the late Ingrid S. Rea. “I still feel a great responsibility to her,” says Margot, who is also a longtime member of the Museum of Natural History’s board, and who was recently honored with emeritus status.
“When I first got involved, Powdermill needed a larger cheering section. It felt good to be needed, and it was a wonderful, non-intimidating introduction to science. I wanted to share it with others; still do,” she says.
“When you take someone to experience bird banding, their eyes pop out of their head. When you get the chance to hold and then release a bird in the name of science, it’s something you never forget. There’s something magical about watching them take the birds from the net, weigh them, and then slip the tiny bands on their legs, especially when you understand how it ties into our understanding of the natural world.”
In 2006, Margot once again used her fundraising savvy to chair Powdermill’s $5 million capital campaign, the first in its history, which resulted in an expanded, sustainable nature center.
Now, she has her eyes set on building the Powdermill Avian Research Center (PARC) of the future. “The science is already top-notch,” says Margot. “A new research center will make it logistically easier to do and make it more accessible—to other researchers, students, and the public. What they have now is simply just too small and greatly limits access.”
With more than 55 years of experience and 750,000 birds captured, PARC research provides an invaluable view of how birds are responding to our changing world. Its scientists’ embrace of new technologies also sets it apart. The Motus Wildlife Tracking System has revolutionized how animal movements in nature are recorded. An international network of radio telemetry towers can now detect small nanotags attached to birds, bats, insects, and other animals that are on the move near these receivers. PARC is currently building the largest network of the radio antennas in the U.S. and will be able to expand its research programs and interactions with the public with a larger, modern facility.
“I’ve been involved with a lot of organizations in my life, and when I look back, there are a few that have really stayed with me, and Powdermill and Carnegie Museums are one of them,” says Margot. Among the highlights: participating in trips through the Carnegie Museums Travel Program and creating fond memories with fellow like-minded learners. Now, her oldest son, Davitt, is helping to carry on her legacy of service by joining the Museum of Natural History advisory board.
“All of my children are interested in the environment, and that made me sit up and get interested also,” says Margot. “At Carnegie Museums, having art and science in one building is a real asset. In life, you don’t want just one or the other. You want to explore their extraordinary linkages.”
To learn more about giving opportunities at Carnegie Museums, contact Liz McFarlin-Marciak at email@example.com or 412.622.8859.
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