Carnegie Science Center boasts about 275 dedicated volunteers, most of who got involved because they love learning, and science, and kids, and the way the Science Center makes a home for all three in such a fun, lively atmosphere. But if dedication can be measured in numbers, Tony Rothbauer is hands-down the Science Center’s most dedicated volunteer. Bar none.
Rothbauer has chalked up more than 15,000 volunteer hours since July 1994, when he first began his volunteer career at the Science Center. That year, at age 39, Rothbauer made his first-ever visit to the Science Center to see the Star Trek: Federation Science traveling exhibit. A long-time Trekkie, Rothbauer went to the North Shore attraction simply to have some fun exploring galaxies with the crew of the Enterprise. But he would become part of a much bigger and far-reaching real-life mission when, before leaving that day, he applied to become a Science Center volunteer. More than a decade later, Rothbauer is a fixture at the Science Center’s Miniature Railroad & Village®; at its welcome center; and at the many traveling exhibits that have made their way through the Science Center during his tenure. He’s worked them all—24 traveling exhibits. He’s seen every IMAX® film—more than 45.
“Tony’s what it’s all about,” exclaims Jo Haas, The Henry Buhl, Jr., Director of Carnegie Science Center. “He simply loves learning new things and the immersive and very social experience of sharing that learning with other people. He’s the ultimate volunteer, and we’re incredibly fortunate to have him call the Science Center home.”
By Betsy Momich
Photo: Lisa Kyle
When did you become interested in science and science fiction?
I was about 8 or 9 years old in Catholic grade school, and one of the nuns took us to the convent to watch one of the Gemini rockets go up into orbit on television. I’ve been into that ever since.
What do you enjoy most about volunteering at the Science Center?
My most favorite thing about volunteering is working with other volunteers from various backgrounds and talking with visitors who share your interests. And in my off time, I can explore other areas of the Science Center and experience other exhibits.
I’m one of those persons who likes to be with people. So anything I do here I enjoy: the welcome center, the simulator, the Miniature Railroad, the traveling exhibits. My enjoyment is being among the people who really enjoy these things, too.
One person, in particular, is Dennis Lynch, who used to volunteer at the Science Center. He started out here as a volunteer with me on the exhibits, and then moved to Carnegie Museum of Natural History as a docent. But we’ve remained good friends. Any time they have a new exhibit, he shows me around, and every time we get a new exhibit, I show him around.
What is it that you and Dennis have in common that makes you both enjoy volunteering so much?
I think we just like to be with people. And we’re a little on the outgoing side.
What’s been your most memorable experience?
I’d say it was the Mike Fincke downlink. [Editor’s note: On September 22, 2004, Pittsburgh-native Mike Fincke, a member of the 2004 International Space Station crew, chose the Science Center as the site of his downlink from space.] Seeing him on the International Space Station that day, interacting with everyone at the Science Center from space, was really something!
I also got to meet him when he came to the Science Center. I really wanted to take my camera and get a picture with him, but I didn’t want to bother him!
You must enjoy being around kids…
My mother is from a big family, and I’ve always enjoyed getting together with lots of kids. When kids are a little shy, I try and get down to their level so I don’t look like a big person. And I try my best to explain the exhibit and encourage them to try each one out. I’m a kid at heart.
How much time do you spend at the Science Center each week?
I work full-time at Wal-Mart, and I volunteer about 14 hours a week at the Science Center. I really don’t get a day off. But I don’t think of this as a job. It’s laid back…and it’s my hobby.
And this isn’t like being in retail. The public has to go to the store to shop for what they need. Here, it’s a whole different atmosphere. People come because they really want to be here. So I don’t consider this a job.
For kids, I think it’s the fact that you can come and learn about science without the pressures you get in school.
What do you think makes the Science Center so special?
When you’re in school, it’s tough to get interested in a subject without the hands-on experience. At the Science Center, you get that hands-on experience, and can have fun learning the science behind the exhibits.
And there’s just so much here to experience. The different areas…astronomy, sports and the science of sports, live demonstrations on cooking and electricity, cryogenics. It’s all here.