Explainers Program Expands Students’ Experience

Posted on Mon, November 2, 2015
  • by: Shannon Marriott is the Explainers Program coordinator at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center  

A few weeks ago we made a huge announcement that our Explainers Program would be expanding. The exciting news made us ponder: What does it mean to be an Explainer? So we sat down with two of them to find out. 

Kellen, an Explainer at the Museum in Washington, DC, helps children with a design challenge at our Hispanic Heritage Family Day.

Explainers from the Museum in Washington, DC in the How Things Fly demonstration area. Kellen is in the back row at far right.

Kellen is an Explainer at the Museum in Washington, DC, and a senior at American University.

Coming into my sophomore year at American University I really wanted to do something more exciting than a typical college job. While at the Federal Work Study job fair I stumbled upon a table littered with model planes, rockets, and science experiments. I have always had an interest in history, especially the history of science and engineering, so I decided to apply. To my great pride I was accepted into the Explainers Program. Every day I wake up happy to head off to work.

This Program has introduced me to many important people that few are lucky enough to see once in a lifetime. However, the best part of the job is the people I meet every day throughout the Museum. A few weeks ago I met a 10-year-old girl who told me she was going to be the first person to step foot on Mars. When I said I thought it was a great goal to have, she scoffed and said, “It’s not a goal, it’s a fact!” Being able to help inspire kids with the work we do has been the biggest payoff for me.

I decided to start studying physics at the same time I began as an Explainer, but little did I know that the interactions I was having would lead me to the addition of an Education minor. I am passionate about STEM education, and that is all thanks to my colleagues at the Museum. I can honestly say that I would not be where I am now without them.

Beth, an Explainer at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, talks with visitors about the EMU spacesuit for Smithsonian TechQuest.

Explainers from the Udvar-Hazy Center in front of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Beth is in the center.

Beth is and Explainer at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia, and is a junior in high school.

A few days after the opening of the Udvar-Hazy Center (not long after my fourth birthday), my family made the first of many visits to the Museum. I am still just as in awe as I walk through the doors as I was back then, greeted by elegant architecture and aircraft hanging from the ceiling. I still look forward to coming to the Museum every week, and I can hardly believe how lucky I am to work at a place I have loved my whole life.

Growing up near Washington, DC, I have always enjoyed visiting Museums, but the Udvar-Hazy Center remains my favorite. When I learned about the Explainers Program, I knew I had to apply. While many of my peers are working in retail or food service, I have been given the amazing opportunity to work in the midst of history and teach others about science. Every day I work, I get to meet interesting visitors who love what the Explainers bring to the Museum. One of my first duties was to help with the Innovations in Flight Family Day, and that’s when I realized how eager the public was to experience everything the Museum has to offer. I also really enjoy the Smithsonian TechQuest program Astronaut Academy because it is a fun and interactive experience that encourages children to become curious about space.

Becoming an Explainer has opened so many doors for me. The training I receive is hugely valuable and complements my high school coursework. Because I enjoy the job so much, I plan to continue working as an Explainer through high school and college. I also love working with a diverse group of intelligent and ambitious students who share similar interests. Leading activities and speaking to the public has increased my confidence, and I find it much easier to talk in front of a large crowd. Working as an Explainer has led me to be curious about historic preservation and museum operations. I have started thinking seriously about college majors and future career choices, and Museum Studies is an area I am strongly considering.

Explainers at the Museum are high school and college students who present informal science programs to visitors. They come from all corners of the country, but at some point go to school in Northern Virginia, Maryland, or Washington, DC. Our current corps of Explainers range in age from 16 to 42 and at any given time are in school in the local area, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, Missouri, Georgia, North Carolina, Delaware, Massachusetts, England, and even France.

Are you interested in becoming an Explainer? Learn more about the Program and apply online today!

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