Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

The Ontario Science Centre’s Karen Hager on the Road from Music to Science and Back Again

Karen Hager on the Road from Music to Science

Karen Hager, director of Science Engagement, talks about the career path that led to a merging of music and science.

When Karen Hager graduated from Harris Institute’s Recording Arts Management program, she never thought she’d find such fulfilling work in the field of science. Thanks to a “Just try it!” ethos instilled in her by an early vocal coach, Hager’s path has led her from event planning for the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) to the Ontario Science Centre, where she’s currently director of Science Engagement.

While music and science may seem like opposing worlds, Hager is now immersed in both: with the Ontario Science Centre’s upcoming “Science of Rock and Roll” exhibit, Hager is seeing two passions merge—and she couldn’t be happier.

“When we announced that The Science of Rock and Roll exhibit was coming to the Ontario Science Centre,” says Hager, “I was thrilled that my two worlds were going to collide.  I am very excited about … connecting science to art in many unexpected ways.”

Hager has long been both a fan and a student of music. She studied viola, piano and opera and completed her BA of Fine Arts in Music Performance when she heard about Harris Institute. She enrolled with the initial intention of studying Production and Engineering before realizing that the Management sector was a better fit. She graduated and began working for the CCMA, organizing their annual conventions.

“I stayed there for seven years,” she says. “The skills I developed in event management led me to make the jump into the corporate world and I landed a great job at the Toronto Board of Trade as their Events Manager… During my time there, I made many connections and ended up completing my certification in Association Management through the Canadian Society of Association Executives.”

It was after leaving the Toronto Board of Trade and working as a VP of Sponsorship for an entrepreneur—“a bit of a disaster,” she admits—that Hager’s path led her to the Ontario Science Centre.

“I never thought I would work in the field of science,” she admits, “but the role was a new one that had been created in order to bring in some new perspectives into the Ontario Science Centre’s public program offerings.  I was hired as the Associate Director of Events & Public Programs in January 2007 and, two years later, was named Director of Science Engagement.”

Hager may still have her lifelong passion for music, but she’s embracing the world of science with equal fervour. This year, she became one of only a handful of executives worldwide to become a Noyce Fellow, participating in the Noyce Foundation’s intensive one-year leadership program of professional development and personal growth. “It’s an intense year of study and project work that will finish in April 2014,” she says. “I’m thrilled to be part of the fellowship and look forward to the outcomes once I’m finished.”

With the Science of Rock and Roll exhibit in the works, her love of music and science are merging in a most unanticipated way.

“It tells the story of rock and roll from a different perspective,” says Hager. “How our need to make music has led to new technologies and how those technologies ended up changing the way we make music. The science of rock ‘n’ roll is explained through audio, video, interactive pods, and visually stunning displays.”

Hager’s enthusiasm for the exhibit couldn’t be clearer. Not only does it marry her love of music and science, but it gives her an opportunity to collaborate with her team to work on programs that will roll out throughout the run of the exhibition.

“My work connected to this exhibit is to create additional programs that tie a variety of topics that bring the science to the topic,” she says.  “Things like Live Music Labs, where we have experts lead workshops on how things work, like deconstructing a guitar, a drum kit, a bass amp—all the cool stuff that is full of science connections.  We’ll also have guest speakers and discussions on the brain and how music affects it.  Quite frankly, there are way more topics and programs that we could do than we will have time to create!”

Hager admits her career took “a very circuitous route,” but encourages students and graduates to never say no to opportunities.  “There really is a common thread throughout different opportunities,” she says.”You just have to be open to trying things out.”

She also encourages students, including the co-op students who come to Ontario Science Centre, to have “concrete and sustained” relationships with their instructors, classmates and peers.

“You never know when your paths will cross or when there will be some synergy on a project,” says Hager. “Just take The Science of Rock and Roll.  Who would ever have thought that my work at a science centre would bring me back to Harris to make connections for programs?”

Linda Galeazzi
Author: Linda Galeazzi
Linda Galeazzi has been an online writer and proof reader for several years.
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