With planning for America250 underway, get to know the people behind the scenes with our spotlight series. We’ll be asking Commissioners and staff about their passions, plans, and hopes for the future.
Meet Director of Engagement Dr. Megan Springate, an anthropology specialist and reality television lover whose team is working on engaging all Americans leading up to 2026.
Q: If you could have dinner with any person from U.S. history, dead or alive, who would it be? Why? What would you ask?
There are so many people from history that I would love the opportunity to talk with over a good meal. I cannot choose just one person—so I’ll mention a couple.
I remember watching Julia Child’s cooking show on TV when I was young. She made these fancy recipes look so easy and made it okay to mess up sometimes! That was so different from other cooking shows on TV. Then, when I got older, I learned about her service with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the ancestor of today’s CIA. That extra dimension of her life made her even more compelling to me. If you ever visit Washington, D.C., take a few minutes to visit her actual kitchen, which has been installed in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. What would I ask her? I don’t know, but I do know that I’d be a rapt audience, prompting her to “tell me more!”
Maria Mitchell is someone I learned about just a few short years ago. She was an American astronomer, librarian, naturalist, and educator. Born and raised in Massachusetts, her father taught her about the stars and ensured that she received a full education (her family were Quakers and believed that girls should have the same access to education as boys). In 1835, Mitchell opened her own school, allowing both white and nonwhite students to attend, even though the local public school was segregated. On October 1, 1847, using a telescope, she discovered Comet 1847 VI (now known as C/1847 T1, “Miss Mitchell’s Comet”). She published a notice of her discovery in January 1848 under her father’s name, and in February of that year, sent in the calculations of the comet’s orbit, solidifying her claim as the original discoverer. Mitchell was the first American to receive the gold medal prize from King Christian VIII of Denmark, bestowed on those who first discovered a comet too small to be viewed by the naked eye. She was also the first woman to receive an award in astronomy, but she was not done breaking barriers. In 1865, without a formal university education, Mitchell was appointed as the professor of astronomy at Vassar College—the first woman to be a professor of this science—and the director of the Vassar College Observatory. For decades after, the Vassar College Observatory had women serving in the director role, all of whom could trace their training to Maria Mitchell. After some time at Vassar, she found out that she was earning much less than many other male professors at the college. When she insisted on a salary increase, she got it, making her an early advocate for equal pay. I would ask her about space, the stars, and planets, and to tell me about her love for teaching and passion for fairness. I would ask what it was like to be a famous woman scientist in the mid-1800s. I would also tell her about life now and ask her if she’d ever imagined that we would fly, send spaceships out beyond our solar system, and walk on the moon.
Q: What does America250 and this moment mean to you?
It is an opportunity to commemorate and celebrate who we are, how we got here, and to dream our future.
Q: What is a unique viewpoint from your home state that you’re excited to bring to this nationwide project?
I grew up just outside of Toronto, Canada—close enough to the border of Buffalo, New York that I watched and learned from both Canadian and American Sesame Street. I immigrated to the United States from Canada, moving here in 1999 and becoming a citizen in 2011. When I first moved from Toronto to New Jersey, I had some culture shock. To my Canadian ears, everyone was yelling rudely at each other. They said soda instead of pop, and they poked gentle fun at how I said “about.” What I learned was how important the subtle similarities and differences are between groups of people and where they live, and how powerful those differences can be in dividing individuals who are from a place from those who are not from a place. I was riding the New York City subway and started a conversation with a woman across from me. She said, “You’re not from here, are you?” as she left the train at her stop. This awareness and these lessons are things I take with me in this job. My team is working to amplify the things that tie us together, while also recognizing and respecting those things that make our communities unique.
Q: Describe your job in 3-5 words.
Facilitating teaching, learning, and curiosity.
Q: What are you currently working on that can be shared with us?
So many things! Watch for the 2021 November Salute art installation, the articles covering aspects of American history you may not have known about, community conversations, lectures, an art competition, and more. My team and I are working on so many projects, and we hope that there will be something for everyone to engage with.
Q: What’s something your coworkers don’t know about you?
My mom had a garden when my sister and I were growing up, and she grew kohlrabi, which she would make with a delicious white sauce. It’s not a common vegetable, but it brings me right back to being a kid.
Q: Give us three fun facts about yourself.
Pie over cake. Salty over sweet. Fresh water over ocean.
No strawberries in my rhubarb pie, please.
I like to watch reality competition shows (cooking and making varieties vs. dating or racing varieties).