|Prescott College Affiliation||Supporter|
|Area of Study||Ecology|
When Josh Traeger and his wife, Kate, want to get kids excited about science, they bring reinforcements – their Mad Science alter egos. “Jackrabbit Josh” and “Cosmic Kate” offer extracurricular science programming to local elementary schools in the form of science shows, special events, summer camps, and after school programs.
As owners of the Mad Science franchise in Southern Vermont and Western New Hampshire, the two are after that “aha! moment” when students discover that science is not only interesting, but also a lot of fun.
“A lot of the schools we work with have great teachers, but they aren’t necessarily science teachers. So they might ask us to come in with a Mad Science workshop to kick off their geology unit with a bunch of exciting, hands-on activities that grab the students’ interest in the topic. Our goal is to spark their imagination. We know we have done our job when we hear enthusiastic parents tell us about how their kids talked about our science topic at the dinner table,” Josh explains.
One of the highly trained instructors on the Traeger’s staff will show up at a school, library, or recreation center as an enthusiastic Mad Scientist to present exciting classes and shows on topics ranging from rocketry to forensic science, to magnets, polymers, and even the science of toys.
“It’s been a ton of work personally to be business partners and still be excited to see each other at the end of the day,” Josh says about working with Kate, “but it’s worth it. Seeing that spark in kids’ eyes when they get it … hearing back from a principal saying that she had a group of girls not interested in science, but after Cosmic Kate came to school, now they want to be scientists.”
Josh came by this business of educating early, via his Prescott College Competence in Ecology with a Breadth in Education and a desire to “combine the outdoors with a career.” Not surprising, he pursued a path in outdoor education. For his Senior Project he designed an environmental education program focused on skiing, a type of “value-added” ecology education experience for resort patrons.
“I thought I’d end up selling it to all these ski resorts and I’d have this nonprofit, traveling all over the country in my RV,” Josh says with a laugh. Only one ski area called him back, and it never panned out.
After graduating, Josh worked as a park ranger at Redwood National Park, an outdoor education/naturalist instructor for several organizations in the West and Pacific Northwest including Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, San Joaquin Outdoor Education Center, and Clem Miller Environmental Education Center. It was during these nomadic times he found a kindred spirit in his wife Kate, who had been doing the same thing on her own. After eight years of moving around they decided it was time to set down roots.
“After PC I had all these jobs that didn’t pay much. I thought, man, I’ll make the big bucks and become a classroom teacher,” Josh says. “It was probably the hardest job I’ve ever done.”
After completing teacher certification at Antioch New England Grad School, he taught 5th and 6th grade at The Greenfield Center School in Massachusetts for three years.
“Kate and I fell in love with the small town communities in New England – and of course all the hiking, canoeing and skiing. The sense of community was something we didn’t have in California. It felt like we had found home.”
As a classroom teacher Josh struggled with “how to stop prepping.”
“Kate would want to go out at night, I’d say no and end up falling asleep working on the couch around six in the evening anyway,” he explains.
When he learned about the Mad Science franchise, Josh jumped at the opportunity to continue living his passion, while working for himself on his own terms, on his own time.
“The idea of having our own business was about the ability to continue to teach kids while trying to have a sustainable income and still be able to go for a hike or take the dog for a swim during the day. We’re just as busy as when I was a classroom teacher, but there’s room to breathe.
“Before Prescott College I really embodied the ‘shred and wreck’ mentality: living large and having a good time outside. Then throughout the progression of my time at Prescott and through other experiences in my life, I gained perspective, figuring out I can give something back in a positive way, through teaching,” Josh says.
“If you can get kids excited about the natural world and their environment, they’ll care about it and for it later in life.”