Executive Director's WelcomeIn March of 2020, I was given the distinct honor of being named executive director of the Museum of Texas Tech University. This privilege, along with my faculty appointment as an associate professor of practice, has been a lifelong dream and I thank Texas Tech University leadership, the Museum Association, faculty and staff of the museum, and all the museum's visitors and supporters for putting their trust in me.
My academic background includes a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Studies with a Biology Emphasis from the University of California Santa Barbara. UCSB's Creatives Studies program is wonderful and focused on taking over-eager undergraduates (chomping at the bits to conduct research) and allowing them to take upper division and graduate level courses even as freshmen and sophomores. I received my Doctorate of Philosophy in Geology, with an emphasis in paleobotany, from Southern Methodist University.
Throughout my career in museums, I have always tried to conduct some active research, even if it has sometimes been on a reduced scale or on weekends or during vacations – including receiving strange looks from beachcombers as I was photographing, video recording, and jotting down notes on the behavior of a remarkable endangered seaside yellow-faced bee on the Big Island of Hawaii. My research interests are broad and consist of understanding the floral composition of prehistoric East African forests, Müllerian mimicry within the vibrantly colored velvet ants, understanding the behavior and biogeography of rare and endangered bees, and figuring out the evolutionary relationships of abalone species.
While being an active researcher is an important and foundational part of my being, my most gratifying experiences have been in the museum setting as a curator and educator at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History and as the executive director of the Don Harrington Discovery Center in Amarillo, TX. Throughout my 12 years in the museum field, I have come away with the importance of museums. In regards to the community they serve, museums have four main roles: as caretakers, sharers, stimulators, and storytellers. Museums are caretakers, not only in the most obvious way as protectors and conservers of priceless art, artifacts, and specimens for the community and humanity at large, but also in terms of a community's history, aspirations, and reputation. Museums are also sharers. Collection loans to researchers and other institutions are pivotal activities that museums undertake, but it is just as important that museums provide open access to information and opportunities to examine physical items by the general public, the dissemination of research findings produced by museum curators and personnel, and in terms of partnerships with other museums in sharing best practices, resolving challenges, and cultivating camaraderie. Museums are also stimulators – they provide unique and innovative ways to reach and disseminate information and concepts to broad audiences, they create awe-inspiring experiences, and assist in the formation of exciting collaborative projects involving experts, artisans, educators, and volunteers. Last but certainly not least, museums are storytellers. Museum storytelling takes many forms including its exhibits and programs, lectures, and hands-on experiences. Storytelling is particularly vital because it is our best way to convey concepts, ideas, history, and to engage and inspire others. My greatest motivation to making sure a museum thrives is seeing the incredible dedication of the staff who bring the institution to life and the way their success is showcased by the 'oohs and ahhs' of school children, a packed auditorium during a lecture, a patron standing for several long minutes gazing at a painting, a visiting researcher excitedly discovering something in the collections, and the journal articles and publications of our staff's work.
In accepting this new position, I recognize the important and delicate role the executive director plays. With 90 years of rich history, the museum has created a strong foundation with its six impressive and comprehensive collections, an exemplary and globally recognized museum science and heritage management master's program, dynamic research, compelling exhibitions and educational programming, an incredible archeological educational and research facility at the Lubbock Lake Landmark, and the internationally recognized Natural Science Research Laboratory. We are also very fortunate to have an amazing association who are some of our strongest advocates and supporters. As executive director, I will build upon these strengths and lead the museum forward through an updated strategic initiative, an increase in visitorship and reach, the continuance of strengthening community relationships, the development and implementation of additional wonderful programming for the public, growth of the museum's standing on a national and international stage through support of our curators, their research, and the showcasing of their findings, building relationships and produce collaborative projects with TTU academic departments and other museum institutions, and increasing the museum's funding. This strategic plan will be a collaborative effort, and I look forward to working together with the talented faculty and staff at the museum, the museum association, TTU leadership, personnel, and academic departments, and community members to make this vision a reality.
This museum, our museum, is a vital piece of the TTU and regional community, but it is also an important resource on national and international scales and this needs to be whole-heartedly conveyed – I am happy to be that earnest advocate. The art, history, science, and research that has been built over the past 90 years is incredible and I feel grateful to now play a part in its future. Growing up in the Panhandle, I have a clear understanding of the deep roots and spirit of West Texas. The relationships I have made make West Texas home and I value all that it has given me. In the coming months, my wife, three children, and myself look forward to getting to know the Lubbock community better.
It has been a unique and surreal experience to begin this new chapter in the wake of a global pandemic, but at the same time it provides us an opportunity on how we can be innovative in meeting the four roles of the museum in the future. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for giving me this opportunity to be a part the museum's story and to make sure that it continues to be an important and inspirational read.
Aaron D. Pan, Ph.D.
Museum of Texas Tech University