Career Path Written in the Stars

The stars seemed to align for Renae Stenger Kerrigan ’11 when she was a student at Bradley. She crafted her own major and utilized the Smith Career Center for an internship at Peoria’s Lakeview Museum, which moved to the new Peoria Riverfront Museum in 2012.

Recently, she was named the museum’s planetarium curator, following the retirement of Sheldon Schafer, who taught her astronomy at Bradley. “When I became an intern at Lakeview Museum in 2009, my boss [Schafer] asked me to take his Astronomy 300 course, so I could work in the planetarium,” Renae said. “His course fascinated me and was the beginning of my passion for science.”

She credits Ann Schmitt, the museum’s vice president of programs, along with Schafer for suggesting her customized major and helping her select classes, including science, education, and art history courses “that would not have fit into a traditional major.” The Smith Career Center also was instrumental.

“Without the Smith Career Center, I would not be at the museum,” Renae commented. “I attended an internship fair and landed a position in the education department of the museum as a sophomore and continued it until I graduated. My internship became a full-time job.”

She is the planetarium’s third director since it originally opened in the 1960s. Renae plans and presents shows and special events in the planetarium and maintains its equipment. Previously, she planned programming, worked in the collections department, and helped in the transition from Lakeview Museum to the riverfront facility. She hopes to increase planetarium programming and promote science education and literacy for all ages.

She noted that being a young woman teaching about science can surprise people, but she enjoys the interaction and the learning that takes place on both sides. “It’s an environment that most people don’t experience in their everyday lives,” she explained about the planetarium. “Young children get so excited about science and learning. Every day, I learn something new. The planetarium is really an amazing place.”

She was selected the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Co-op/Intern of the Year in 2010, but her internship provided another tangible reward. “I married Kyle Kerrigan on June 15, 2013,” Renae said. “We met during my internship; he worked for the park district that cared for the museum grounds.”

— B.G.