Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Linda Abraham-Silver spent hours inside the Exploratorium — physicist Frank Oppenheimer’s famous public-learning lab founded in the late ’60s.
She studied the classics at UCLA, but after going on an archaeological dig in Greece during her junior year, everything changed. Out went literature and in came science.
On Saturday, July 1, Abraham-Silver begins her role as chief executive officer of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, a position that tops her impressive CV. The 47-year old, who holds a Master’s from Pepperdine University and a Ph.D. from USC, comes straight from Abu Dhabi, where she worked for the government as associate director of the Technology Development Committee. The eloquent Abraham-Silver is every bit passionate about her field — one often dominated by men.
She has worked at such preeminent institutions as the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, Ohio. In Abu Dhabi, she launched the country’s annual Abu Dhabi Science Festival, a 10-day event that has attracted more than 100,000 people each year since its 2011 inception.
For the past six months, Abraham-Silver has been on the move, making the nearly 17-hour flight from Abu Dhabi to Dallas for meetings and obligations here and abroad. Prior to these visits, she had only been to Dallas once — 15 years ago to watch the Dallas Cowboys play on Thanksgiving Day with her sister, who lives in Wichita Falls.
The city was a much different place then, most noticeably lacking the massive, graphic Thom Mayne-designed Perot Museum, which became one of the most important and innovative institutions in Dallas when it opened in 2012. Now, Abraham-Silver is infinitely more settled.
“I was worried that everybody I would meet would be from Dallas,” she says. “But I’d say 80 percent are transplants. There is a real mix of vitality and interests and perspectives.”
Remaining on the cusp of science and technology industries, Abraham-Silver says, has been Abu Dhabi’s goal since she arrived six years ago, when the United Arab Emirates’ capital city discovered that 80 percent of high-school students chose to study the arts over science.
Encouraging students, particularly young women, to select STEM focused education and career paths is also a challenge faced by the U.S. Solving that problem has become her driving force.
Before accepting the Perot position, she completed full design plans for the yet-to-open Abu Dhabi Science Centre. With kids age six to 11 in mind, she developed hundreds of interactive exhibitions and education programs covering oil and gas formation, architectural design, electricity, astronomy, geology, and more.
“The single strongest predictor for someone choosing a career in science and technology is not grades, what their parents did, or how they do on tests,” she says. “It’s actually just their interest in science measured between the ages of six and 11 years old.”
That spark of interest is something Abraham-Silver knows well. While navigating a booming career, she is a mother to a 17-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son, both of whom gained an uncommonly worldly education while living in Abu Dhabi.
Studying ancient Greece in sixth grade meant a 10-day trip to Athens; seventh grade geology class meant a visit to Mount Etna in Sicily. International excursions and museum outings compel and draw students in, says Linda Abraham-Silver.
“Dinosaurs, fossils, gems, and minerals are gateway drugs to science,” she says.
For her own kids, this held true; both teens have plans to pursue science educations. Now, the Perot will serve as the family’s playground — and Abraham Silver’s new project — with six floors of immersive activities and exhibits, all in a city ripe for a jolt in STEM awareness.
“Community engagement is high on my priority list,” she says. “What I learned in Abu Dhabi is that you have to meet your audience where they are.”
Perot Museum of Nature and Science, 2201 N. Field St., 214.428.5555.