GROWing and Laughing in St. Louis
A big reason I'm drawn to working with museums and in informal education is because I love learning. Travel thrills me because it is essentially an immersive learning experience. As a consultant, I get to maximize all the knowledge-building in both personal and professional capacities. (Disclaimer: studying this intersection is a passion of mine and was the subject of my M.A. thesis.)
Recently I flew from my tiny corner of the US over to St. Louis, Missouri to collect some data. My colleague, Lauren Wilson, and I partnered with ExposeYourMuseum to work on a summative evaluation of the GROW exhibition at the Saint Louis Science Center. GROW opened about one year ago, covers over an acre of outdoor space, and is the newest permanent exhibition at the Science Center. Flying out to St. Louis to start data collection on GROW proved to be a great learning and reflective experience. We're working on analysis, so I can't share any juicy insights on the exhibit, but I can tell you some things I personally learned.
1. It is possible to go 6 workdays without a computer... sort of.
One of the perks of being a consultant is getting to use your own (sometimes dated) tech for work. Sometimes this means your computer irrevocably crashes 12 hours before you board your plane... and sometimes it means you're left relying on others to help you out. What could have been a really stressful setback actually encouraged greater collaboration and focus. Having one device to work from meant that Lauren and I had to really prioritize the time we were spending on the computer updating instruments, drafting emails, and tracking data. While I wouldn't always recommend relying on one very generous colleague, it worked well for us and actually allowed us to have more time to explore St. Louis.
2. It is possible to end every night of a work trip in hysterical laughter.
This was my first visit to St. Louis, and Lauren's second. We wanted to get the most of the trip and constantly sought out recommendations for after-hours activities. This led us to some amazing dining experiences and some hilarious adventures. Between visiting Nelly's star on the Delmar Loop, catching a surprise light show at the Union Station Hotel, collecting bruises while navigating the City Museum's many caves and tunnels, and stumbling upon a Cardinals game, there was so much fun to be had. Almost every person we met had such pride for their hometown, and we felt that. St. Louis is a quirky town with so many hidden gems. If you open yourself up to it, the city will surprise you and give you a memorable experience.
3. It is possible to learn and GROW alongside the visitors you're talking with.
Okay, so I know I said I can't share any findings from the study yet, but I do want to share something that made a big impression on me. I grew up in California and spent many summer roadtrips attempting to count the rows of fruit trees in the orchards lining I-5. That sums up most of my previous interactions with farming, food production, and agriculture. Conceptually I knew how it all came together, but I don't think I was fully able to appreciate it until I visited GROW for myself. Talking with visitors in GROW gave me new insights on what farming or agriculture can look like. I'm excited to dig deeper in the data, because I watched visitors get excited about seeing their daily life being represented on a grand scale in a big museum, alongside exhibits that encouraged visitors to think of themselves as NASA scientists guiding rovers on Mars or as paleontologists unearthing dinosaurs. Once again, I was reminded of how special informal learning spaces can be, and how important representation in these spaces are... not just for visitors, but for me, too.
Above, snapshots of GROW, at the Saint Louis Science Center.
Below, pictures of some of the fun we had in St. Louis.