Terri Kirby Hathaway: A Teacher of Teachers

 In Coastal Life, Education, OBX Community

TeriofficeStepping into the office of Terri Kirby Hathaway is like catching a very laidback college professor during office hours. Located in the new Coastal Studies Institute building on Roanoke Island, Hathaway is the Marine Education Specialist for North Carolina Sea Grant. Papers clutter her desk, bookshelves line one wall, and shells, sea beans, and a sand collection can be found throughout. Hathaway is passionate about sea life and welcomes any opportunity to share her love with those who are willing to learn. One of Sea Grant’s goals is to connect research to resources to create a healthier coast. “We live in such a really neat place,” says Hathaway. “I think if you make things fun, then people will learn without realizing it. That’s what I try and do, make things fun.” A native North Carolinian and graduate of UNC Wilmington with a degree in Marine Biology, Hathaway began her career on the Gulf Coast in Galveston, Texas studying marine science. After seven years, she was lured back to this state when a position as Education Coordinator opened up at the North Carolina Marine Resources Center, which later became the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island.

Most of Hathaway’s work involves instructing teachers, professors, museum educators, and home-schooling moms about marine life so they can, in turn, teach it to their students. She says, “I prefer to work with teachers because of the multiplier effect: if I go and teach a class of students, I’m going to reach 30 students. If I teach 30 teachers, I’m reaching 900 students.” Considering the 28 years she has been teaching teachers, that’s a lot of students touched by Hathaway’s knowledge and intrigue.

In working remotely with one teacher via Skype, she provided that teacher’s class with individual shoe boxes, each containing seashells hidden in sand gathered from our shores to allow the inland students their own beachcombing experience. Hathaway likes to treat “the ocean as an ‘integrating context.’ She explains this concept further, “You can use the ocean to teach music with sea shanties, you can use poetry about oceans to teach language arts, or teach art through the contour drawing [of shells and shorelines]; there are all kinds of ways you can use the ocean and marine environment to teach.”

TeriAmazingIn 2013, Hathaway co-authored North Carolina’s Amazing Coast: Natural Wonders from Alligators to Zoeas ($16.95, paperback). Based on a similar book, Georgia’s Amazing Coast, Hathaway collaborated with Kathleen Angione and Georgia’s Sea Grant writers, David Bryant and George Davidson, to co-author the illustrated A-to-Z marine life book. Somewhat of a single-volume encyclopedia, it is an ideal book for educators or parents to use for teaching flora, fauna and habitats of our coastline. A big hit in Outer Banks bookstores this past summer, Hathaway is currently developing a coordinating, instructional kit to accompany the book which will help educators incorporate our coastline into their curriculum.

Beyond education, Hathaway delves deeply into special areas that blur the lines between work and fun. Even beachcombing can be a part of her job, which are “one and the same” to her. An avid arenophile, or sand lover, Hathaway collects and studies sand samples from around the world. In her office are vials of sand from the shores of the Nile, Alaska, Hawaii, New Zealand and more. Hathaway teaches that the “different shapes, grain sizes, colors and composition, tell you where the sand came from.” In the case of Outer Banks beaches, our sand is mostly made from quartz that begins in the mountains of Virginia and then travels by various waterways such as the Roanoke River, Albemarle Sound and the Chesapeake Bay to our shores.

TeriseedsAmong Hathaway’s collections are sea beans, “seeds from tropical plants that use the ocean currents for transport.” Rarely found north of Cape Hatteras, as they travel primarily in the Gulf Stream, Hathaway has amassed an impressive display of sea beans carrying such names as Tropical Almond, Water Chestnut, Prickle, Sea Heart, Nicker Nut, and, Hathaway’s favorite, the Hamburger Bean. She said, “I love to share them” and she regularly does just that. This past year, Hathaway had the chance to speak at the Sea Bean Symposium in Florida.

Hathaway’s passion for nature extends to a recent interest in birding. A pair of binoculars remain in her office for opportunities for Hathaway to gaze through her office windows onto the marshes and spot her beloved winged creatures. Outside of her work and hobbies, Hathaway also finds time to sit on the Hotline Board of Directors, the Outer Banks Center for Dolphin Research Board of Directors, and the Board of Supervisors for the Dare Soil and Water Conservation District. Hathaway also organizes the local chapter of Green Drinks, a group of like-minded locals who get together once a month to discuss general topics of the Outer Banks environment. Not geared solely towards environmentalism, past presenters have spoken about organic wines, the wild horses of Corolla, winter birds on the Outer Banks, and sea turtle strandings.

In June, Hathaway will be eligible for retirement. Sitting in her office surrounded by her treasured collections and with a wall-length window overlooking the unblemished soundfront marshes, and perhaps with another book in the future, Hathaway asks, “Why would I? I have such fun. I get to do fun things; I love it!” Photography by Marie Walker.

To find out more about Sea Grant programs, visit: ncseagrant.org 

Meaghan Beasley
Author: Meaghan Beasley

Meaghan Beasley has lived on the Outer Banks over 14 years; although not a local herself, she married one and finds herself completely at home here among the water and dunes. A sort of modern Renaissance woman, Meaghan works as an Indie Bookseller, a bookkeeper, a freelance writer, a small sewing business owner, and the wife of a crabber (truly a job in and of itself). When not working, she's reading: on the beach, on the deck, on the couch – anywhere's perfect for reading!

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