Imagine you are a climate scientist in Fairbanks, Alaska. You have devoted your entire professional life to studying the effect of climate change on permafrost (frozen Alaskan ground). You understand that fossil fuel usage created huge carbon emissions which slowly began to trap heat in the atmosphere. You know that average temperatures are warming faster than ever before and that is causing some serious ramifications specifically permafrost thaw. As the permafrost melts, houses begin to sink, lakes are drained away underground, and carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere. As a professional in your field, you understand the science behind this chain of events. There are tipping points and positive feedback loops and the greenhouse effect is in full swing.
Now imagine you’re an 8 year old kid. You’ve heard that the world might be heating up. Maybe it’s because of fossil fuels, but what are those again? And a guy on TV told you that global warming has nothing to do with humans at all. Anyway, you’ve never left your home state before. There certainly isn’t any melting permafrost here, not that you’d know what it is anyway. You know you had an extra hot summer last year but you also remember it snowed twice in the winter. Obviously, global warming is not your top concern.
I invite you to consider these two identities to illustrate the fundamental question of education- How do we get specialized information into the hands of young people who aren’t exposed to it in their everyday lives? Bridging this information gap, specifically between scientists and young people, is what my internship at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is all about. I’m on the research and development team which conceptualizes and oversees the creation of new exhibits. This means brainstorming, researching, applying for grant money, and making sure an exhibit fulfills its educational goals while still being visually appealing and engaging. Right now our big project is a collaboration with the University of Alaska, Fairbanks to create a traveling exhibit on melting permafrost. The exhibit includes a full-size model of a real Alaskan research tunnel, mini experiments, interactive games, and stories from Native Alaskans. When completed, it will tour the United States for 8 years!
I have gotten to help with and witness many aspects of the exhibit development process during my summer at OMSI. I edited video footage shot by Native Alaskans in Shishmaref, created research briefings, sat in on lots of very collaborative meetings, and of course, printed and stapled lots of documents- my boss even let me pick up coffee once so I could feel like a “real intern”. My biggest task has been writing programming (educator and volunteer facilitated lessons and activities) to travel along with the exhibit. These range from a classroom alternative energy debate- I call it “hometown energy showdown”- to an in-exhibit building challenge. Each activity aims to illustrate or build upon concepts introduced in the exhibit while aligning with Next Generation Science Standards and National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation framing. Since I hope to go into academia one day this hands on experience writing lessons while adhering to educational standards has been incredibly relevant, not to mention shockingly fun. Who else gets to inflate balloons with yeast and invent new games all day at work?
Experiences like Clara’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff.