Rachel (Powers) Woods, BS ’01

A photo of Rachel Woods

Rachel (Powers) Woods, BS ’01, appreciates connections between and among the nurtured and what nurtures them.

“The intricate relationships between plants and the wildlife they support fascinates me,” she said, adding that she “fell in love with nature at an early age.”

Rachel’s interests and powers of observation directed her journey through Ohio Northern University as a double major in biology and environmental studies, to her current position as director of the Museum Park at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, N.C.

The Museum Park, at 164 acres, is one of the largest art parks in the nation and includes environmentally sustainable landscapes, colorful contemporary gardens, more than 30 site-specific temporary and permanent works of art, and five miles of nature trails.

Another photo of Rachel sitting on a bench

“We provide visitors with opportunities to discover art and enjoy the beauty of native plants and sounds of wildlife amid a bustling urban center,” Rachel explained, noting that public programs promoting performing arts, music, film, nature, fitness and wellness, enliven the Museum Park throughout the year.

As the park’s director, Rachel oversees landscape planning and vision. This includes her contributing her expertise to the ongoing ecological restoration of the site.

She also develops sustainability management techniques to improve the environmental health of the park, including strategies to guide invasive species management and native planting policies.

“I collaborate with colleagues to create new features in the park, and I assist with project management of these developments during construction. I also work with staff to create public programs and interactive educational experiences.”

In 2021, Rachel worked with ecologists, landscape architects, engineers, and colleagues to formalize a vision plan for the park through strategies that helped build resiliency to climate change, restore habitats on site, and expand access in the park to a wider audience.

She especially enjoyed collaborating with her colleagues on a project that makes ecological information accessible to all park visitors.

“The All-Access Eco Trail contains 13 sign stops featuring audio-described stories about wildlife, information about habitats in the park, and sensory exploration prompts. The signs include large print, braille and tactile images,” she said.

Rachel credits ONU with helping her grow professionally, for sure, but also as a person.

“Their support for students to incorporate course work in areas outside their core area of study and encouragement to pursue the humanities expanded my worldview and inspired a desire for life-long learning,” she explained. “I incorporated art history, painting, ceramics and Spanish into my coursework and could never have imaged how valuable these courses would be to me in my career.”

ONU’s “small classroom size” and these “opportunities to enrich one’s core focus in the humanities are the greatest strengths of ONU,” Rachel added. “The expectations and level of rigor that my professors had for their students gave me the discipline I needed to strive for excellence.”

Rachel feels fortunate to be where she is.

“I enjoy working with a talented team, and it gives me great joy to see how landscaping renovations are transforming areas of the park over the last eight years and to envision what these spaces will look like 15 years from now.”