Wardell joins Port Discover


Pat Wardell, the new executive director of Port Discover, poses Friday inside the Elizabeth City nonprofit that provides hands-on science education for kids.


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Pat Wardell is the new executive director of Port Discover, Elizabeth City’s nonprofit that profits hands-on science education for kids. 

Six hours into the job on Friday, Wardell said he’s excited to grow the organization’s programs and cultivate more kids’ interest in science, whether that’s related to nature, robotics, computer programming or something else. Wardell takes the reins from Mike Rice, who took the job last summer but said Friday he’s stepping down from the position for personal reasons.

Wardell, 46, comes to Port Discover after running a nonprofit, the Monk Seal Foundation, in Hawaii for six years. Dedicated to protecting the endangered species, Wardell said he worked to develop programs to educate youth about the monk seal, and worked to get kids interested in science despite gaps in their schooling. It’s important to appeal to kids’ interests to draw them into the sciences, he said, rather than simply lecture at them.

Prior to running that nonprofit, Wardell said he worked in Erie and State College, Pennsylvania, for information technology companies that designed software for child welfare agencies. He holds a bachelor of science degree in quantitative business analysis from Penn State and a master’s degree in strategic leadership from Mountain State University, he said.

In coming to Port Discover and Elizabeth City, Wardell said he had already relocated to the East Coast to be closer to family, and saw the job as a great opportunity.

Commenting on Wardell’s hiring Friday, Port Discover board Chairman Dave Simpson said he was the “unquestionable” best choice out of dozens of applicants Port Discover got since advertising the director’s job.

With both corporate and nonprofit experience, Wardell should be well suited to working with children while also pursuing funding sources and key community partnerships, Simpson said.

Simpson declined to discuss Rice’s decision to leave Port Discover, but said the board was satisfied with his work and it was Rice’s choice to leave.