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Museum Leader, Youth Developer, Writer

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Preeti Gupta, Ph.D.

I serve as the Director of Youth Learning and Research at the American Museum of Natural History. I began my journey more than two decades ago when I was first hired as an Explainer at the New York Hall of Science. The job was to conduct science demonstrations for the public and to engage visitors in conversations about science at the exhibits. That experience was critical in shaping my trajectory. 

In my current position, I lead the strategic thinking, growth and research on youth programming at the Museum - in particular - youth who engage with us in non-school times. Committed to diversity, inclusion and equity, our group works hard at partnering with schools, parents and community-based organizations to first engage youth to explore the sciences studies at the Museum but then to deepen their learning through intensive multi-year programs.

My Trajectory

 
 

Published Work

Accessing the elite figured world of science (Chaffee & Gupta)

2018

Redefining Professional Learning for Museum Education (Tran, Gupta & Bader)

2019

An Informal Science Education Program’s Impact on STEM Major and STEM Career Outcomes (Habig, Gupta, Levine, Adams)

2018

In this article, we examine how participation in a longitudinal ISE out-of-school time (OST) program facilitated by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) impacted the STEM trajectories of 66 alumni. Findings revealed that 83.2% of alumni engaged in a STEM major, and 63.1% in a STEM career, the majority whom were females and/or members of historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. Based on interviews with a purposeful sample of 21 AMNH alumni, we identified four program design principles that contributed to persistence in STEM: (1) affording multiple opportunities to become practitioners of science; (2) providing exposure to and repeated experiences with STEM professionals such as scientists, educators, and graduate students to build social networks; (3) furnishing opportunities for participants to develop shared science identities with like-minded individuals; and (4) offering exposure to and preparation for a variety of STEM majors and STEM careers so that youth can engage in discovering possible selves. These findings support our central thesis that long-term engagement in ISE OST programs fosters persistence in STEM.

Informal Science Institutions And Learning To Teach: An Examination Of Identity, Agency And Affordances (Adams & Gupta)

2017

Informal science education institutions play an important in the public understanding of science and, because of this are well‐positioned to positively impact science teacher education. Informal science institutions (ISIs) have a range of affordances that could contribute to learner‐centered science teacher identity development. This article describes research from a clinical experience in a museum where teacher candidates engaged visitors in learning dialogs around objects on a moveable cart in an exhibit. We describe how working in informal settings and learning to use the affordances of that setting supports aspiring teachers to connect theory to practice in ways that developed Spielraum in that is student‐centered, responsive to the needs of learners, and allows for the imagination future selves and classrooms that are conducive to maintaining these identities. This research supports the critical role that ISIs could play in teacher education, especially during the clinical phase where teacher candidates are forming initial notions about their identities, about the self who teaches.

Long-Term Participants: A Museum Program Enhances Girls' STEM Interest, Motivation, and Persistence (Adams, Gupta & Cotumaccio)

2014

Out-of-school time (OST) science programs, such as the Lang Science Program, play an important role in influencing the trajectory of science learning for many young people. OST programs are especially important for students from groups underrepresented in science, who, more often than not, attend schools with inadequate science education resources. Programs like Lang Science have great potential for young women of color, who often have to grapple with both race- and gender-based barriers to STEM careers. Over the last ten years, OST science programs have multiplied to increase young people's exposure to science. However, there are still not enough opportunities for "long-term engagement," which is essential to move youth from having interest in science to having the skills, knowledge, and self-efficacy to pursue careers in science. This article describes findings from exploratory research conducted to document the experiences of a small group of young women of color who participated in a museum-based OST program during their middle and high school years. The authors were particularly interested in learning how their long-term participation in the Lang Science Program mediated their developing interests and identities as people who like science, understand science, want to do science, and can persevere in STEM majors and careers.

I learn more here than I do in school. Honestly, I wouldn't lie about that: Creating a space for agency and identity around science. (Adams & Gupta)

2013

An ongoing issue in science education and the STEM fields in general is the underperformance and underrepresentation of marginalized youth. This is often attributed to a dis-connect between school, school science and the cultures that youth enact and experience in their lifeworlds. However, science education research has demonstrated that these very youth are able to successfully participate in science in spaces that lie outside of the formal structure of schooling. This article uses a framework that merges a transformative activist stance of learning, knowledge and identity development with a place-based framework sociocultural lens to describe the experience of youth working as floor facilitators in a science center where their role is to facilitate learning interactions between visitors and exhibits. Over a three-month period we used cogenerative dialogues as praxis to improve the practice of facilitating visitor interactions and learn about the youths’ identity development.  We learned that this youth-centered context has empowered youth in science leadership roles both in and out of the science center, allowed them to view power issues embedded in formal schooling, and allowed them respect difference and appreciate the multiple perspectives that the general public and their peers bring to science learning experiences.

Published Chapters

Gupta, P. & Correa, J. (2017). There is no “Off Button” to Explaining: Theorizing identity development in youth who work as floor facilitators. Book Chapter. In Patrick, P. (Ed.) Preparing Informal Educators, Springer Publications

Gupta, P., Trowbridge, C. MacDonald, M. (2016). Breaking Dichotomies: Learning to be a teacher of science in formal and informal settings. In Avraamidou, L, Roth, M-W (Eds.) Intersections of Formal and Informal Science, Routledge Publishers

Gupta, P., & Adams, J. (2012). Museum-University Partnerships for Pre-service Education. In Second International Handbook for Science Education. Eds. B. Fraser, K. Tobin & C.J. McRobbie (eds.). Springer Publications. 1147-1162

Gupta, P. Adams, J., & Dierking, L (September, 2011). Motivating youth through authentic, meaningful and purposeful activities: An examination through the lens of transformative activist stance. Invited White Paper for Convening on Advancing Research on Youth Motivation in STEM. Boston, Massachusetts

Gupta, P. Correa, J. Bueno, S., & Sharma, J. (2010) Using cogenerative dialogues in an informal science institution. In K. Tobin, A. Shady (Eds.) Producing successful science and math education: Teachers and students working collaboratively. Sense Publishers

In this article, we consider the specific affordances of cultural production theory for examining how sociohistorical and cultural discourses of science been seen as elite impacts individuals at every level of education. We then extend this discussion by exploring how an informal learning space at a prestigious science museum is designed to explicitly tackle cultural discourses of science as elite breaking the  barriers to identification with science.

It is through the collective work of museum educators that an organization grows its social capital in its local community and beyond its physical footprint. Given the significant contributions of museum educators to an institution’s outcomes, we argue for a shift in mindset on investing in their growth and development. We share our reasoning for this change through our experiences from the Reflecting on Practice program. Two leaders in our community offer their reflections on why they took this leap of faith and the outcomes 5–10 years since their first step.

 

Overview of Projects

Staying in Science

Science Research Mentoring Consortium

Funding by the National Science Foundation (DRL#1561637), this longitudinal study aims to contribute to the literature on the opportunities and obstacles faced by historically under-represented youth as they persist and enter STEM careers. The project documents that pathways of approximately 100 high school youth who have mentored science research experiences and examines it through a Community of Practice lens. 

Funded by the Pinkerton Foundation, The New York City Science Research Mentoring Consortium is a partnership among 23 academic, research, and cultural institutions based in the five boroughs who share the goal of engaging high school youth in STEM research experiences working alongside scientists. The partnership among the sites allows each site to share recruitment efforts, scientist mentor preparation experiences, family engagement and create solutions for shared constraints.

Decoding Urban Ecosystems: Computational Thinking Integration in Middle School STEM

Reflecting on Practice

Working with dozens of informal learning sites locally and nationally, this is a program for supporting professional learning for informal educators. 

Funding by the National Science Foundation (DRL#1934039), this  research will focus on identifying innovative ways of supporting students to learn about and actively engage in authentic science practices through integrating CT into curriculum. 

Next Generation Museum Conversations

Funding by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (MA-10-19-0593-19), in this project we will develop a new floor facilitation strategy that support college youth in learning how to engage museum visitors to use practices of science as they experience exhibits. 

Most recent ruminations...

Ponderings on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Work

Like many museum professionals, I am immersed in reading about and thinking about issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in museums. As I think particularly about power, privilege and oppression and actions that we take in our daily work, I humbled by the small ways that I can make change which mediates shifts in where power lies and through the process, challenges my assumptions about the audiences that I work with. Working collaboratively with colleagues at my place of work but in the informal learning community generally, the areas of activity that are constantly discussed are about program design and whether the designs we use are actually supportive of the lives for whom they are intended. In terms of recruitment, have we articulated why we want to attract particular audiences and if so, do our strategies and recruitment material use an asset-based approach? When thinking about curricular design, what are the strategies to use to reduce stress for the learner and create a space environment to play with scientific ideas? When creating measures for studying impact, how are traditional methods missing the mark in documenting the lived experience of those who participate? Little by little, we advance our practice, and with each new reading and new conversation, I am transformed in my thinking and also contribute to transforming others.

Vision for Effective Facilitation on Museum Floors

There is a rich foundation of literature on the vision of what good teaching looks like in a formal classroom. There is a long way to go before we have a shared vision of what effective facilitation looks like on the museum floor. There are several best practices, models and professional learning protocols that can be used to guide the discussion but still, there isn’t a shared vision yet. What does success look like when having conversations with visitors? What are the goals we have for our visitors after they interact with floor staff? Should they leave knowing some big ideas? Does that not matter and leaving with excitement and “good feeling” is sufficient? Some might say that success is when a visitor can convey to someone else what they learned at an exhibit. Others might say that actual success is when visitors can apply the practices of learning from an exhibit to other areas of the museum or other museums? How do factors such as the visitor’s motivation for coming, the composition of the visitor group (family vs two adults) mediate a floor facilitators ability to create successful interactions? Is one interaction with a floor facilitator enough or visitors need to experience a chain of interactions? As I progress in my project work over the next year, I will need to revisit these questions and working with colleagues, create a vision for what effective facilitation at AMNH looks like. What are the features of an effective facilitation? How does one teach a new floor facilitator to develop skills to enact those features?

What I have read recently

An Accidental Apprentice, by Vikas Swarup

By the author of the original story, Q&A, which led to the movie, Slumdog Millionaire, this book tells the story of a middle class single girl in New Delhi, India who is approached by a CEO of a major company and told that if she can pass seven tests, she will become the new CEO of his company. The story unfolds with her encountering these seven tests and through the journey, we encounter the realities of the human condition. 

Emergent Strategy, by Adrienne Maree Brown

This book invites us to feel, assess and learn from changes as they come. I haven't start this one yet, but I am hoping it will help with strategies in managing change from a leader's perspective.

 
 

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