IF/THEN Ambassadors reflect on their first year

Last September, 125 women innovators across a variety of industries were named as AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassadors by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Lyda Hill Philanthropies. Among this group of talented STEM professionals were three Ambassadors at ASTC-member museums:

  • Olivia Castellini, Senior Exhibit Developer, Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago, Illinois)
  • Becca Peixotto, Director, Center for the Exploration of the Human Journey, Perot Museum of Nature and Science (Dallas, Texas)
  • Myria Perez, Fossil Preparator, Perot Museum of Nature and Science (Dallas, Texas)

After their first year as Ambassadors, ASTC checks in to learn more about their experience.

Early experiences in science centers helped launch two of the Ambassadors on the path toward careers in museums. Castellini found herself locked inside the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum as a five-year-old; she was so “transfixed by the space capsule hanging over my head” that she missed hurrying out with her family at closing time. Perez was 12 when she attended a dinosaur event at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences and asked how she could work with the curators. They said she could volunteer if a parent came with her—so Perez and her mother made the one-hour drive to the museum almost every weekend for several years.

With a mix of behind-the-scenes and public-facing roles, all three were drawn to science museums because they offer the ability to bring together a love of science with the opportunity to share that enthusiasm with others. Peixotto felt like “it was like a lightbulb turned on” when she discovered archaeology and the opportunity to combine her interests in science, outdoors, teaching, and history. Even though much of Perez’s work is in the lab, its large glass windows facing the public space at the museum allow visitors to watch as she works to uncover and prepare fossils, many of which have been hidden for millions of years.

Photo courtesy of IF/THEN® Collection

I love that I get to create experiences that share the joy of discovery and the delight of knowing science with the world.

IF/THEN® Ambassador Olivia Castellini, Museum of Science and Industry

An important motivation for the Ambassador program is to raise the profile of inspiring women to serve as role models, especially for middle school girls.

Participating in the program has opened several doors for the Ambassadors, including media appearances, like being featured on the CBS Saturday morning television program Mission Unstoppable with Miranda Cosgrove, and opportunities to engage with young people, including through virtual summer camps, the Girl Scouts, Skype-A-Scientist, and direct outreach from teachers and librarians. With the pivot to online engagement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the invitations have only expanded, since geography is no longer a barrier. “With so many things going virtual, the IF/THEN® Initiative gives museums an opportunity to engage with women in many STEM fields even if they are not local to the museum,” suggested Peixotto.

Photo courtesy of IF/THEN® Collection

I hope young girls, and the adults who know them, will see me and the other Ambassadors, be inspired, and help us to create more diverse, equitable, and innovative science.

IF/THEN® Ambassador Becca Peixotto, Perot Museum of Nature and Science

Of particular interest to science centers is the IF/THEN® Collection, a free digital library housing photos, videos, and other media of women in STEM fields. The Collection includes digital assets for each Ambassador, who represent a wide diversity of STEM careers and backgrounds. Produced by the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) in partnership with ASTC and the IF/THEN® Initiative, this free library is the largest resource of its kind dedicated to increasing access to images reflecting the diversity of women in STEM.

Perez suggests museums incorporate the Ambassadors in relevant exhibits. Even a simple panel—potentially using assets from the IF/THEN® Collection—telling the story of an amazing scientist who does research in the area can provide compelling visual representation of women and gender minorities in the field.

Among the resources in the Collection are full-size posters for several of the Ambassadors—including Perez—with the tag line “this is what a scientist looks like.”™ These are perfect for classroom or library use or hanging in an otherwise empty hallway at a science center.

Photo courtesy of IF/THEN® Collection

I’ve been the apprentice; now it’s my time to be the role model.

IF/THEN® Ambassador Myria Perez, Perot Museum of Nature and Science

As institutions that are dedicated to engaging the public in science and already reach large numbers of students, science centers provide a great opportunity for partnership with the Ambassadors. For example, Ambassadors might be ideal guest speakers or content experts for museum programs and events—or a science center might be an appropriate venue for the Ambassadors’ own outreach activities. Indeed, many of the profiles in the Collection have topics the Ambassador is prepared to speak about.

Clicking on the “info” icon at the top of each asset in the Collection includes additional background about the Ambassador, including self-identifiers, discipline, geographic connections, Girl Scout participation, and connections to science museums (as a staff member, volunteer, or visitor). All of these fields can be searched using the search box. For more tips about using the Collection, watch ASTC’s webinar about the IF/THEN Collection.

The Ambassadors encourage museums not to be shy about reaching out broadly. As in-person activities are able to resume more fully, it may be especially useful to find Ambassadors based in the local area. And if a science center is having trouble identifying a local woman scientist in a given field, Peixotto suggests tapping into the Ambassadors’ networks by asking someone in another city to suggest a contact who lives nearby, saying “part of being an Ambassador is helping to amplify other voices.”

As a member of the IF/THEN® Coalition, ASTC has also created a gender representation toolkit and launched a $600,000 grant program for ASTC-member museums in the United States. For more information about these activities and resources related to gender equity and inclusion in the museum field, please visit www.astc.org/ifthen.

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