#LGBTSTEMDAY – Celebrating Diversity and Inclusion

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#LGBTSTEMDAY, the first international day to celebrate LGBTQ+ individuals working in science, technology, engineering and math fields, is July 5, 2018. As inclusion is one of our key values, we wanted to highlight and recognize our amazing LGBTQ+ museum professionals who contribute directly to Thinkery’s success. We recently sat down with Dana Mahoney, Todd Moore, Karen Wylie, Waylon Waddell, Izzy Flores, Charles Morris and Adrienne Barnett to discuss the importance of diversity and inclusion in STEM. (In our case, STEAM!)

Why is STEAM important to you?  Why did you choose a career in STEAM/STEAM education?

DM: I came into the STEAM field later in my career. But I find the work being done in this field at museums really inspiring and rewarding. I truly value being a part of a world that encourages young people to be excited by STEAM.

AB: I’ve worked at science centers and children’s museums for almost two decades. I genuinely love what I do, the people with whom I work, and the institutions I’ve worked for. As a museum professional, my hope is to create fun, playful experiences like I had, that encourage visitors to be curious about the world around them, spark interest in STEAM and maybe even inspire some to pursue careers in STEM.

TM: Concepts of STEAM—science, technology, engineering, art, math—are the foundation for everything around us. I love being a part of that learning process for kids for ‘how things work’ and witnessing those ‘AHA!” moments. There’s nothing more satisfying!

WW: I come from more of an artistic background, and I appreciate that Thinkery strives to include the arts as an essential component of conveying STEM concepts to children. In order to educate the whole child, it’s important to engage their whole brain.

CM: STEAM is important to me because I love asking questions and looking at problems from multiple directions. It’s so rewarding to come to work in a place filled with so much energy and to watch kids make new discoveries. I think kids learn so much more when they tackle projects from an interdisciplinary perspective, so I’m overjoyed that I get to be a part of that every day.

IF: From a very early age I was attracted to America’s history of technological advancement beginning with the Industrial Revolution. The world is currently following suit yet again with the “Hybrid Age” of human-computer interaction, automation and economy. My involvement with and advocation/activation of these concepts is my foremost passion and is why I try to be an ambassador of STEAM that empowers others, children, in the same way, I was.

KW: My head is constantly on a swivel, and I’m always looking for ways to more deeply appreciate what’s in my world. So, to me, STEAM is important because it gives me tools to not only understand and appreciate what’s around me but also to create something new.

Why STEAM education? For me, there’s nothing more invigorating than playing, exploring and making alongside learners of all ages. On the flip side, though, every learning experience starts with an idea—a way to connect kids to their world in a familiar, or goofy, or unexpected way. It’s the ideas that keep me excited!

How does Thinkery’s mission of equipping and inspiring the next generation of creative problem solvers speak to you?

DM: I believe that the work of informal educators to equip children with skills like creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking will better prepare them to handle future problems. I also think that showing young people the value of iteration in the scientific and design process is impactful. I love seeing young people realize that you can “fail forward”!

AB: The US is currently ranked 14th in the world in science literacy. Additionally, we live in a time where access to information and ideas is readily available, but what isn’t always apparent is the source or validity of that information. As an informal science educator, museum professional and a parent of two, I hope we can help address these issues with fun, interactive, hands-on museum experiences that foster critical thinking skills, curiosity and an open mind. I want to help encourage children and adults of all walks of life to think like scientists—be inquisitive, to weigh the quality and objectivity of data presented to them, and to change their minds when presented with contrary evidence.

TM: Even if not working directly with STEAM, concepts from Thinkery can relate to any area you may choose to go. When faced with a problem, being solutions-oriented, and if at first, you don’t succeed, making the necessary accommodations to overcome the challenge!

WW: Our planet is in trouble, and we need to fix the errors we have made as a species. The younger generations care much more deeply about the environment than previous ones did, and I feel it’s essential to ignite their interest in science and technology so that our world has the brightest future possible.

CM: I see the mission being fulfilled every time a kid gets really excited about a project or idea. When kids are having so much fun that they don’t know they are learning, that’s where I think you develop lifelong curiosity. The world needs creative problem solvers, and I’m glad to work at a place that values creativity.

IF: Thinkery is a platform that allows me to do so every day as a vessel for their mission.

KW: Thinkery has empowered ME to see myself as a creative problem-solver. I have the opportunity here to explore and try new things… and fail at a lot of them before I get them right! This mindset is one that has taken me a lot of work and time to develop in myself, and I think the most important part of my job is to model this curiosity, playful risk-taking and resiliency for the folks who I get to work with, both here at Thinkery and out in our community.

Thinkery strives to be a safe, accessible and inclusive space for all to play and learn together. As an LGBTQIA+ professional, please tell us about your experience working in STEAM—and about the importance of inclusion and diversity in STEAM fields.

DM: I think having a rich landscape of diverse voices amongst our world’s future problem solvers is an asset. The more the STEAM profession can reflect the communities that we serve, the more impactful and rich our solutions can be.

AB: I take a lot of pride in the continual progress that Thinkery makes towards being a safe, accessible and inclusive space for all to learn and play together. In my three and half years at Thinkery, I’ve seen our staff makeup better reflect the diversity of the community we serve, we established a staff-led Inclusion Workgroup, and I’ve been part of the development of several programs designed to be inclusive and accessible like our Community Night Spotlights, Sensory Friendly Hours and all-abilities Gingerbread Fun Run. As a parent of two children being raised by two moms, one of my proudest moments and personally enjoyable was Community Night Spotlight: LGBTQ Family Pride night. It was so inspiring to see the array of families attending the event connecting with each other, having fun with STEAM and recognizing that Thinkery is a place for all families—including those that look like theirs.

TM: I’ve worked in education for years, but this is my first STEAM-focused position—I’ve loved seeing kids experience STEAM through our programming and watching them learn through our hands-on, play-based learning.

Each community provides a unique perspective and voice, and it’s important to add that diversity to the conversation. Each community adds value to the conversation and shares their experience to the dialogue. It’s important to include all those voices! 

WW: Every different human being has a unique perspective to contribute. If we as a species are going to evolve in the way we address global problems, we must strive to include all people’s gifts and strengths in the STEAM fields.

CM: A love for learning is something that all people can share regardless of their background. Everybody brings something special to the table, so it’s important to me that we have a lot of different voices at that table.

IF: General “inclusion and diversity” in STEAM fields shouldn’t be a necessity but a given we don’t have to look for; it’s unfortunate we do. I consider myself very lucky to have never experienced discrimination as a gay or Hispanic professional in any field so far. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of its presence and others’ battles. When it comes to the way one carries themselves as a professional, what should matter most is the work they produce.

KW: I’ve been fortunate to always work in places that allow and encourage me to bring my whole self to work. Representation and visibility are huge parts of inclusion, and I’m grateful for moments like this where I can say, hey—I do this work, and this is who I am.

I do firmly believe that the strongest communities (work and otherwise) embrace people who bring a diversity of cultures, lived experiences, and ways of thinking and doing. I think STEAM fields (including museum fields) can struggle with letting all ideas have an equal seat at the table. We’re prone, sometimes, to creating things for ourselves, rather than for the people who we reach (or the people who we HOPE to reach). It’s important for us to be constantly self-critical and continue to invite feedback—and then listen to it. This is how we grow.

#LGBTSTEMDAY is an important celebration of diversity and inclusion at Thinkery, where our passion is helping young minds be inquisitive, thoughtful, creative, exploratory and open. As we move full STEAM ahead into the future, tomorrow’s thinkers and doers are learning how to make our world a better and more inclusive place today. Come be part of the beginning!

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