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Humans of the Science Center: Katie Derickson

Cultivation is a long game. To ensure our STEM ecosystem continues to yield diverse and prepared talent, accessible careers for the community, and a boost to traditionally underrepresented innovators, it takes advocacy, awareness and of course, public funding. Enter Katie Derickson, Director of Government and Community Relations for the Science Center. Read on to learn how she is laying the groundwork for our cultivation initiatives to thrive and how improvisation is a key component to her job and her life.

What exactly does a Director of Government and Community Relations do?

Our work benefits immensely from public support in the form of government programs and funding opportunities. My job is to ensure that our community partners, and elected and appointed leaders know the value our work and advocate for programs and funding that support our goals. A natural result of that advocacy work is public funding in the form of grants and contracts, and I oversee our applications for public funding and manage compliance and reporting for the public funding we are awarded.

Doing great work means very little if those who could benefit don’t know about it. The “community relations” half of my title relates to my effort to connect the Science Center more deeply and broadly to the communities we are a part of, including our West Philly neighborhood. Attending local meetings, hosting visitors, and welcoming outside events are all ways we expand our reach and impact and stay connected.

What surprised you most about the Science Center when you started?

The biggest surprise when I started at the Science Center was how many different kinds of brilliant people were packed into this one nonprofit. From real estate operations to our commercialization programs, from our FirstHand youth educators to our accounting and finance teams, the variety of smart people here consistently blows me away. Given that all these bright minds are focused on expanding economic opportunity in Philadelphia and beyond, it makes for an inspiring work environment.

Which accomplishment or milestone during your tenure here makes you the most proud?

We hosted over 50 elected officials in 2019 including city, state, and federal leaders. I am immensely proud of the national network of advocates outside the Science Center who point to us as an example of how best to nurture a STEM ecosystem.

What are you most excited about for the Science Center in 2020?

Philadelphia’s biopharmaceutical and therapeutics community is at a tipping point and the Science Center is perfectly positioned to ensure that more Philadelphians benefits from the immense growth and innovation blossoming in this region. In 2020, our workforce development program will start placing under- and unemployed Philadelphians in family-sustaining careers. Our FirstHand youth program will give hundreds of local kids exposure to the universe of STEM jobs that exist on our campus and in our region. Our Launch Lane accelerator will help the next generation of underestimated STEM entrepreneurs find a foothold and grow their businesses. It will be a year of expanding opportunity and I can’t wait.

When you’re not advocating for the Science Center and managing public fundraising, what can we find you doing in your free time?

My family and friends are my number one priority so I spend as much free time as I can with them. Adventures outside with my niece and nephews or trips to see friends near and far are a few of my favorite things. I’m also an improv comedian so you can occasionally find me on stage performing long-form improvised comedy, which resembles a short, improvised, comedic play. When done well, the scenes are threaded together with recurring characters and themes to form a cohesive, hilarious whole.

Has improv helped you in your role as Director of Government and Community Relations?

As the Bard said, “All the world’s a stage.” My work advocating on behalf of the Science Center involves learning what is important to public officials and connecting our work and their priorities. Every advocacy meeting or call is an exercise in improvising a story that joins their interests to the work of the Science Center. Given the breadth of programs and projects we contribute to, there is usually a clear connection between the two.

Tell us something about yourself that we’d be surprised to learn.

I sew quilts. I learned to sew from my mom and have had a lifelong love of needlecrafts. I’ve made quilts large and small, almost always machine piecing and hand quilting.