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Column: Mystic Aquarium honored at White House

Kudos to Mystic Aquarium, which received the 2014 National Medal for Museum and Library Service at a White House ceremony hosted by first lady Michelle Obama.

Mystic is the only winner from Connecticut as well as the only aquarium or zoo nationwide singled out for this honor.

Dr. Stephen Coan, president and CEO of the nonprofit Sea Research Foundation, the parent company of Mystic Aquarium, was expected to travel to Washington, D.C., on May 8 to receive the award. He was expected to be joined by Justin Richard, who went from visitor, to volunteer, to intern at Mystic Aquarium, and is now doing research at the aquarium as part of his doctoral degree at the University of Rhode Island.

The aquarium was selected for its exemplary service to the community by the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and a member of the aquarium's board of trustees, nominated the aquarium for the award. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy participated in a news conference to announce it. Congressman Joe Courtney and Michael Cotela, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Stamford, voiced their support.

Dr. Coan said: "It is an honor of the greatest magnitude to be recognized as a top institution among so many worthy candidates across the country. We have worked hard to create in-depth and meaningful educational and public engagement programs that not only foster the next generation of environmental stewards, but help everyone learn about and understand the wonderful and fragile ecosystem around them."

Education is key to ensuring that our children understand the role that beluga whales, sea lions and other marine mammals contribute to our oceans. Mystic Aquarium is the largest informal science education provider in Connecticut and southeastern New England, reaching 100,000 students annually. The aquarium reaches an additional 3 million students in the United States through its Jason Learning division, a suite of digital STEM curriculum designed to work with museums, libraries, aquariums and zoos in boosting STEM learning and connecting informal education programs to the Common Core Curriculum.

Its animal rescue program is outstanding, saving countless numbers of seals that strand on our beaches each year. Its scientific research endeavors stretch from Mystic to Cape Horn in South Africa to the High Arctic. The aquarium recently hosted five students from Point Lay, Alaska, to visit the aquarium and learn more about beluga whales.

Spring is a perfect time to take a family trip to Mystic Aquarium. See for yourself why the aquarium received this great honor from the institute by purchasing the new Mystic Pass. The savings include admission to the Mystic Aquarium, Mystic Seaport and the Mashantucket Pequot Museum as well as discounts throughout the Mystic area. When you count up all the savings the card virtually pays for itself.

So join me in congratulating Coan and everyone at the Mystic Aquarium for being recognized nationally for all the great work they do.

Cathy Kangas is a member of the board of directors of the Humane Society of the United States. She can be reached at cathy@praibeauty.com.

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