Vicki Coats '79 started working at OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, in 1985, and for the first 20 years thought that she was the only Whittie in her field.
"I accepted this as completely logical," Coats said. "Whitman is a small college, Portland is a small city, and informal science education is a small field."
However, in 2005, she wrote a proposal for the National Institute of Health for some exhibits about healthy eating, specifically seeking funding from the Northwest Health Foundation. To Coats' surprise, her program officer was fellow Whittie Michelle McClellan '94.
"A common college connection really makes a difference in networking." McClellan said. "I will always make time for a fellow Whittie. Generally speaking, I've found that Whitties offer a kind of safe harbor during times of tumult or transition, and that's significant."
After her connection with McClellan, Coats said that Whitties came out of the woodwork as she continued to work on the exhibit Eat Well, Play Well.
Her project advisor was Jonathan Purnell '82, an Oregon Health and Sciences University obesity researcher. All of his siblings attended Whitman. Marilyn Johnson, who was leading the project as well, had a Whittie daughter, Olivia Johnson '11. Two others joined the group of Whitties when Coats sought small museum partners from the Palouse Discovery Science Center - Dana and Kathy Dawes, who are parents of Andy Dawes '02.
"I've had several opportunities to collaborate with Whitties both at the University of Washington and here at OHSU in Portland," Purnell said. "Each one is a remarkable person in their own right and it's been a huge pleasure to work with them."
OMSI ended up sending two of the Eat Well, Play Well exhibits, Every Body Eats and Let's Get Active, to the Walla Walla Children's Museum in 2006.
"This was actually not a coincidence," Coats said. "I suggested it ... it just seemed fitting [with all of the Whitman connections]."
From there, Whitties continued to show up in Coats' life at OMSI.
After Eat Well, Play Well opened, Coats hired OMSI Youth Volunteer Coordinator Kyrie Thompson Kellett '00 for her department, and Annie Douglass '00 took Kellet's place running the Youth Volunteer program.
"It's fun to have something in common, a shared experience," Kellet said. "I have also been in a position to hire [alumni], and I know that for the most part, Whitman [alumni] are competent writers, creative and good to work with."
Recently, Kellet and Coats teamed up on a project collaborating with tribal museums. The exhibit, Roots of Wisdom, is about how Native Americans and Native Hawaiians are using traditional knowledge to tackle current challenges, and included the Tamaskslikt Cultural Institute in Pendleton, Oregon. OMSI intern Alli Fairbanks '07 is also working on this exhibit. Seems as though Whitties are using their Whitman network, and have found their way to OMSI.
"Yes, the convergence is becoming more powerful and more inexplicable," Coats said. And then joked, "The only plausible explanation may be a parallel universe populated by mascots from the 1950s. OMSI's mascot ISMO and the Fighting Missionaries may have developed some kind of connection?"
OMSI's traveling exhibit Roots of Wisdom: Native Knowledge. Shared Science. will be at the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute in spring of 2015.