After graduating from Southern Union in 2011 with an associate’s degree in machine shop technologies, Hunter Parker toured some shops where he could find potential employment. He realized that a lot of the available work consisted of operating a single machine to do a single specific task all day, every day, and decided that he wanted to do something else with his life.
It was then that he decided to enroll at Auburn University.
After developing a love for blueprints and drafting during his time at Southern Union, Parker decided to initially major in architecture at Auburn. While touring different facilities in the College of Architecture, Design and Construction he ran into a friend who convinced him to take up industrial design instead.
“He was just like, ‘Man, this is what you’ve gotta do. You will fall in love with this, just trust me,’” Parker said. “So I listened to him and I took the intro classes.”
After getting through the tough ‘weed-out’ summer program for would-be industrial design majors on his first try, Parker began to learn concepts like color theory, ergonomics and perspective drawing to add on to the programming and metal fabrication techniques he learned from Southern Union.
During his second year in the program, Parker used those skills to design an LED down marker for football referees to use as a part of the sponsored studios program within industrial design.
“You can actually see this on the field today at most SEC games,” Parker said.
Unlike many people who grew up in Alabama, Parker had never been to the McWane Science Center in Birmingham, Alabama, until he applied for a job there after graduating from Auburn in 2016.
“I had never heard of McWane until I applied there, honestly,” Parker said. “When I came for an interview, I got to check out the facilities and it put it in my mind that it’d be a fun place to work.”
Parker ended up being hired on as an exhibit designer in a team responsible for coming up with new ideas and concepts to showcase science in fun and creative ways, then building and displaying the final result for the center’s guests.
“My job is pretty amazing, honestly,” Parker said. “I get to do everything I went to school for and kind of be involved in the community as well. It’s really great.”
On Sept. 15, 2018 Parker and his team were able to unveil their new series of exhibits called “Lights and Illusions” for the McWane Center, after working on it for four months.
“It consists of a lot of stuff that plays with the senses, most of them around sight,” Parker said. “We have an infinity room, which is just a six by six room where you’ll see a reflection of yourself from every vantage point.”
Parker also designed a giant kaleidoscope, an object called “the ring of shadows” and, Parker’s personal favorite from this series, the “rainbow light box.”
“It’s essentially a bunch of Mylar tubes that have an RGB LED pointed up at the Mylar, and you stick your hand between the light and the Mylar tubes and it basically creates a pixilated colored shadow of whatever you place in front of the light,” Parker said.
While Parker and his team dedicate a lot of time to coming up with and creating new and fun ways to put science on display, or repairing previous displays, he said that one aspect of the job is always at the forefront of his mind when it comes to design.
“Honestly a lot of what I’m trying to figure out on my day-to-day is how to make all of these exhibits safe,” Parker said. “So you have to learn how to cover up screws and how to make things so they’re not a head entrapment, how to figure out the ergonomics to allow ADA compliancy, stuff like that most days.”
When asked if he thought he would ever run out of ideas to make science fun with exhibits, Parker laughed and said, “No, there’s always something cool to make.”