“I have been so overwhelmed and so appreciative for the acknowledgement,” Smith said. “But I also am quite aware that this award is [for] something that I do and that I accept because of the Tellus educational team that we have here.”
Smith’s award was one of eight presented at the Georgia Association of Museums & Galleries’ annual meeting in Dalton. Award materials stated Smith was selected “for exemplary leadership, excellence in education, enthusiastic support of staff and volunteers, and an unwavering commitment to the profession.”
According to her nomination letter, which was written and submitted by Tellus Executive Director Jose Santamaria, Smith “directs one of the most successful museum education and enrichment programs in the state, if not the nation. At the same time, she is engaged in professional activities that benefit the museum education field nationwide. Her contributions to Tellus have a direct impact on every museum visitor including students and staff. A key to her success are her qualities as an exemplary leader over a staff of 30 full- and part- time professionals and 160 active volunteers. As an instructional leader, Cantey has encouraged ‘growth and improved professional practices’ through her supervision [and] direction of staff to ensure the educational mission of Tellus Science Museum.
“Cantey has stimulated ‘public interest, support, and understanding of museums and non-profit galleries of all disciplines,’ as she has presented at a variety of national and regional conferences; presenting curriculum on using artifacts for instruction in formal and informal educational settings. ... Cantey also extends the museum’s influence to have an impact on other institutions by involvement in professional organizations. She has developed and maintained relations with our local Chamber of Commerce, NASA and the Georgia Department of Education (DOE). Cantey has worked closely with the Georgia DOE participating in development of the Next Generation Science Standards. Since 2011 she has served on the Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) Advisory Board for the Department of Education on: sub-committee for Business/Post-Secondary/Community Partnerships, sub-committee on STEM Professional Learning, and most recently, was selected to chair a committee for the development of a STEM Strategic Plan for Georgia.”
Encompassing 120,000 square feet at 100 Tellus Drive in Cartersville, Tellus is comprised of four main galleries — The Weinman Mineral Gallery, The Fossil Gallery, Science in Motion and The Collins Family My Big Backyard hands-on science gallery — a 120-seat digital planetarium and an observatory. A Smithsonian affiliate, the museum has attracted more than 960,000 visitors — about 230,000 of whom have been students — since opening in January 2009.
A former teacher and principal, Smith is in her eighth year with the Tellus organization, joining the venue when it originally was referred to as the Weinman Mineral Museum.
“Back in the day — I’ve taught in Cobb County, I taught in Bartow County and — I was bringing my students to the programs at the Weinman Mineral Museum because they were so good,” Smith said. “So I’ve always been a strong proponent of informal education and feel like frequently children’s most memorable learning moments occur not necessarily in a classroom but frequently to another external experience. That’s when you have those ‘aha’ moments. I’ve always been a big proponent of that.
“Coming to the museum, I felt like my students were ... so engaged not only because of the content — because the content was the same as what I was presenting in the classroom — but they had the specimens. They had the artifacts. They had the eye candy to make it all tie in and [for the students to] go, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is what she’s been talking about with the sedimentary rock or whatever.’ I think that seeing my students just become so excited about this learning experience was one of the things that really led me to want to join the museum profession.”