In college, I studied mechanical engineering, so that was my degree that I graduated with, and I worked as an engineer for about a year at a firm in Austin, Texas. And just, I don’t know, just really realizing this is not for me. This exact thing is not for me, but I, I’ve always really liked science and always really liked math. And I started volunteering at the museum here. It was, at the time it was called the Austin Children’s Museum. And then just kind of quit my engineering job and was like, I love this. I love the museum. I love being around kids. I’ve always loved being around kids. And just started working my way up in the organization. So I became their science content developer and worked on exhibits. We built our own exhibits, designed our own exhibits and programs like summer camp, after school programs, and I mean, I was super passionate about being an evangelist for STEM, for science and being like, everybody can do this.
You know, are a scientist naturally. I truly believe that. I think the whole separation of you’re a science person or not a science person, or you’re good at math or not, that’s an artificial byproduct of going to school in the industrial age. And I firm believer in all of that stuff, but I also learned a lot of lessons. I think about storytelling while I was working at the museum for one thing, story time. We had a story time every hour, and it happened right outside my office. And so I would listen to the educators, the people who were the aprons and who worked on the floor, and they would read books to the preschool kids who would come in. And so I heard every book 50 times. That was really good training, listening to kids respond in the moment to Knuffle Bunny and stuff like that.
But I also learned that I had this mentor at the museum. She was my boss, the director of education, and she really taught me that if you want someone to learn something, if you want a message or an idea to stick with them, they have to feel something first. So if we’re going to make an exhibit about nanotechnology, which we had an exhibit about nanotechnology, you have to make them people feel like curiosity, wonder, excitement. If they don’t have those emotions, it just doesn’t matter what you tell them, it’s not going to stick. It’s never going to penetrate their mind. So I learned a lot about things, explaining concepts by telling a story, by making something engaging. I think that was really, really great training.
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Author Christina Soontornvat talks about her job as the science content developer for a kids’ museum where she learned that whether through an exhibit, program, or story, kids — anyone! — need to feel something in order to really learn and retain something.