A Publication of WTVP

40 Leaders Under Forty

Renae Stenger Kerrigan | 33

Curator of science, planetarium director, Peoria Riverfront Museum (PRM)

Renae Stenger Kerrigan
Renae Stenger Kerrigan

Arguably the most dynamic and influential science educator in the Peoria region today is Renae Kerrigan, the youngest person and first woman to serve as curator of science and planetarium director at the only multidisciplinary museum of its kind in the nation. Renae reaches and teaches thousands of area schoolchildren annually, more than 50,000 people overall, and has served in a succession of roles worthy of any top-tier international museum.

She is a nationally respected evangelist for science, astronomy and the environment. She serves on the board of the Great Lakes Planetarium Association. Renae helped PRM expand its community collaborations to more than 240, specifically connecting with the region’s libraries. 

Since joining the staff as an intern at PRM’s predecessor, Lakeview Museum of Arts & Sciences, in 2009, she has planned and overseen the acquisition and installation of the Evans and Sutherland Digistar 7 planetarium system, the world’s most advanced planetarium software and the museum’s most important technological upgrade since opening in 2012. She helped coordinate fundraising and grant efforts that garnered more than $1 million for the planetarium. 

Recently, she acquired a state-of-the-art laser light system for the Dome. She curated two major exhibitions on the moon corresponding with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo lunar missions. During the pandemic as the museum closed its doors, she went virtual with emails, videos and postings that reached tens of thousands  In one night, she attracted 88,000 worldwide viewers to her Facebook live event on the great conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter.

Her leadership has enhanced PRM’s permanent collection with the recent purchase of a 10-foot-tall amethyst geode, the largest on public display in the U.S outside New York City. The majority of 5-star reviews the museum gets from visitors on Google Reviews reference their planetarium experience.

On the community service front, she is active with Women in Leadership of Central Illinois and the Peoria Academy of Science, where she has led the annual Science Treasure Hunt and the Community Solar System 5K and Family Fun Run.  

Advice to 20-year-old self: “You are stronger and more capable than you know. Be afraid, but leap anyway.”

Bucket list number one: “I would love to see elephants in their natural habitat in the Sahara. I want to travel to the Arctic circle in both the summer and winter, so I can see the midnight sun and experience 24 hours of sunlight … the 24-hour night period … the constellations rolling around the sky, and Polaris at the zenith.”

Social issues: “I advocate for representation of women and minorities in science, technology, engineering and math fields. All children are born scientists …”  

Favorite cause: “The protection of our environment and mitigating the effects of global climate change.”