Meet Our Neighbors: Marijke Hecht

Get to know Marijke Hecht, Assistant Professor of Recreation Park and Tourism Management at Penn State Greater Allegheny. Marijke is on the team that made our Emmy® Award-winning short form series, Through the Woods.

Tell us about yourself and how your career led you to work on Through the Woods.
I’m a city kid who fell in love with the natural world as a young adult. My career has included teaching math and science in NYC public schools (my hometown), leading environmental non-profit work in Pittsburgh parks (my current town), and trying to learn as much as I can about the more-than-human world and how we might engage children, youth, and families that live in cities in outdoor activities.

I was working as the Director of Education at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy when I was approached to be part of the team working on Through the Woods. Although I had never worked on a television program, I was thrilled to be part of this project because I knew it was a chance to reach even more families with the kinds of ideas and experiences we provided at the Frick Environmental Center.

My personal mission has long been to offer people opportunities to find beauty and wonder in nearby nature, and then to steward and care for the land and waters that surround us, just as the natural world cares for us. Through the Woods really reflects these ideals, which is why I was so excited to work on this.

What was your favorite television show growing up?
I was a huge fan of Fraggle Rock and Star Trek as a child, and I also spent countless hours in my teenage years watching videos on the new and exciting MTV.

What went into your role for an episode of Through the Woods?
I worked with the team to brainstorm what kind of backyard adventures might be possible for Rider and Wolfie and how they might interact with the plants and animals they discovered in wondrous and ethical ways. After the team developed scripts and visuals, I then came back in to review them and provide feedback. As a trained botanist, naturalist, and environmental educator, it mattered to me that the plants and animals were depicted realistically and that Rider and Wolfie could connect with them in ways that were playful, curious, and also careful. I was so impressed with the writers’ and animators’ willingness to attend to details that would make the show realistic and educational.

What is your favorite episode of Through the Woods?
They are all so beautiful, but if I have to pick one, I’d have to say, “A Froggy Day.” I like how Rider and Wolfie use all their senses to make observations about the frogs and how Grammie encourages Rider to use play and his imagination to help make sense of the frogs and their behaviors. But it’s hard to pick just one!

What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love being outdoors—hiking, biking, and kayaking are some of my favorite forms of recreation. But you can also find me reading on the couch or baking a pie for some rest and relaxation. I also love cooking and eating a big meal with my family.

As the weather gets colder, what is your favorite autumn activity?
Definitely hiking, which I love to do in the fall and all winter long. Once the leaves drop on the deciduous trees, vistas open up and you can really see the landforms of Western Pennsylvania. I love thinking about geological time and being able to see the shape of the land reminds me that the world is always transforming, even if it is happening at a scale that can be difficult for us as humans to see.

Stream Through the Woods for free anytime on PBS KIDS.