The EcoTarium is an IF/THEN Gender Equity Grant recipient. Twenty-six ASTC-member museums received funding to launch projects aimed at increasing the representation of women and gender minorities in STEM across their museums’ content. This grant program is supported by the IF/THEN Initiative, a national effort sponsored by Lyda Hill Philanthropies to inspire young girls to pursue STEM careers while creating a culture shift in how the world perceives women in STEM.
The EcoTarium is a museum steeped in scientific discovery, having been founded in Worcester, Massachusetts as the Worcester Natural History Society in 1825. The Society was an organization of, let’s face it, men who met to discuss and study natural history as hobbyists, both local natural history and—as our collections can attest—global natural history. These men were also the bastions of our city’s economy at that time, an economy that flourished during the Industrial Revolution and one that remains deeply connected to science and technology.
As the science museum that grew from that Society, we have a responsibility to ensure that our community is not only passionate about science and nature, but that kids who grow up in Central Massachusetts see pathways for themselves in the STEM fields, here and beyond. With this core tenet in mind, and with a practical need to refresh exhibit content, our exhibits team embarked on a refresh of two of our main galleries (Space and Biodiversity) in 2020.
As is so often the case in our work, a serendipitous moment occurs where a problem you are trying to solve can be answered by an opportunity that presents itself. For us, we were trying to update science content and create connections to careers. When ASTC joined the IF/THEN Initiative’s Coalition, I happily signed us up to pilot ASTC’s Gender Representation Toolkit for two reasons: 1) I knew that we could contribute valuable and practical information from our experienced exhibit team on how the toolkit was used in real exhibit spaces, and 2) I also knew that our exhibit team would become more aware of the ways in which our exhibits were unintentionally unwelcoming for all guests. It was a real “ah-ha” moment for the team, and one that was made all the more special when we received an IF/THEN Gender Equity Grant to assist us in refreshing the content in two of our older galleries.
Prior to using the Toolkit, the team was only planning to refresh content to ensure the most current science was being presented. After using the Toolkit, we realized that needed to change out all the panels so we could replace images to be more balanced in gender. We also realized that it was important to make sure the images we included represented people who were of many different races and ethnicities, as opposed to images of only white people, which accounted for the majority of the images in our galleries. Additionally, the team realized the importance of publishing the new panels in both English and Spanish. Worcester, Massachusetts is a wonderfully diverse city, with over 30 languages spoken in our public schools. Spanish is by far the most common second language spoken and, for many, it is the first language. It was critical for us to create a more welcoming space, not just in our behaviors but in our fixed content through the use of dual-language graphic panels.
The IF/THEN Ambassadors provided our team with an easy opportunity to identify scientists who we could feature in three of the new panels: Dr. Kris Inman, Adriana Bailey, and Dr. Yamina Pressler. These women STEM Ambassadors will help connect our audiences to careers in STEM, help girls see role models for themselves, and help make scientists more accessible to all with their engaging and relevant quotes. While we cannot be open yet to show off these new galleries, we are able to share this content through our virtual platforms and e-newsletter, and we can’t wait for our guests to have two fresh galleries to come back to when we do reopen.
This post was contributed by Lucy Hale, the President and CEO of the EcoTarium—a museum of science and nature located in Worcester, Massachusetts—and a member of the ASTC Board of Directors. Founded as the Worcester Natural History Society in 1825, the EcoTarium is the second oldest society of its kind in the country. It operates as an indoor-outdoor science museum on 47 acres, inspiring the next generation of New Englanders to have a passion for science and nature.