Listening and Learning

Institutional Details

  • Region of Country: Southwest
  • City Size: Population of Albuquerque is 557,169
  • Institution Size: 20,000 sq. feet of exhibit space
  • Institution Age:  34 years
  • Role of Author in Institution: Deputy Director and Director of Community Engagement
  • Building Blocks Topic:
          Primary: Communication and Collaboration
          Secondary: Global Awareness

Case Study

Kristin Leigh, Deputy Director and Director of Community Engagement at Explora in Albuquerque, NM, and also a participant in Cohort 3 of CCLI, was presented with a Roy L. Shafer Leading Edge Award (“Edgie”) at the ASTC conference on September 26, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. This “Edgie” was awarded for Leadership in the Field (nonexecutive leadership) based on her work in developing a “listen, welcome, co-create” approach to learning from and collaborating with highly diverse audiences and sharing that approach with fellow Explora staff and the field. Below is the transcript of the speech she gave upon receiving this award: 

Thank you, presenter, and all the members of the Roy Shafer Leading Edge award selection committee. I am honored and grateful to receive this recognition for work that has changed our organization and my life over the last few years. I’d like to start by telling you a story.

One warm Albuquerque afternoon, I pulled into the parking lot of Alamosa Community Center for a visit to Explora Ingeniería, a new community-embedded, afterschool engineering program. A janitor directed me, “Right down that hall where all the excited kids are.” I saw 12 kids and 8 parents, all doing engineering activities facilitated in Spanish. With them were Andres, an Explora educator whom some of you likely know, and Jose Luis, an engineer from Sandia National Labs. Andres was working with a group of kids, who were stomping a modified bike pump to launch rockets they had designed, then running back to re-engineer their rocket's fins and re-test them. Cheers or groans announced how each modification fared.

Nearby, a little brother was on mama's lap, experimenting with balance. Every time the mother placed an object on a wire, it fell off, and the little one laughed. Then, he'd try. Jose Luis gave the boy extra paper clips to add weight and help balance the object. When the boy succeeded, he snuggled into his mom's neck with a satisfied giggle. The mom chatted in Spanish with Jose Luis about how he became an engineer in order to provide for his family.

I watched awhile until I saw Zully, walking into the room with a birthday cake for one of the students. She and I embraced, excited to be together witnessing the results of this collaboration between Explora and Zully’s group, Partnership for Community Action or PCA. PCA focuses on critical community issues like education, economic sustainability, wellness, and immigrant rights.

This story illustrates Explora’s three-part community engagement strategy: to listen, welcome, and co-create. The first time I met Zully was at a listening session Explora facilitated with Mexican immigrant mothers. There we heard a deep commitment to providing children with educational opportunities despite many barriers to access. Barriers went beyond financial ones to include things as specific and real as not knowing which phone number at Albuquerque Public Schools might be answered in Spanish, to feeling uneasy about visiting places like Explora because blondes work there. Developing relationships with PCA and asking, “what might we do together to make a difference?”, led to co-creation of Explora Ingeniería, a rich, multi-generational, neighborhood STEM program.

This is a story full of connections, bringing people and resources together for positive change. It is also a story of turning outward and using the community as the main reference point for decision-making. Turning outward has helped Explora have greater impact and relevance in the community and allows us to blend our expert knowledge with critical public knowledge.

On Friday I had the pleasure of being invited to the ASTC Diversity and Leadership Fellows Alumni pre-conference session, and we had a rich conversation about community engagement. If there are Diversity Fellows and Alumni out there, will you show us who you are? This group of leaders is out to change the world, and I believe they’ll do it. We talked Friday about expert knowledge versus public knowledge. Nowhere can we get more consumed with our expert knowledge than at a professional conference, and I love hearing passionate colleagues describe ideas about how to do things like develop much-needed scientifically literate citizens. But here’s something I’ve come to understand: it is a privilege to worry about how scientifically literate your child is, because it means there are a whole lot of other things you don’t have to worry about. During Explora’s listening sessions, we heard lots of worries…worries about how to handle it when your child on the autism spectrum hits you in public, worries about what to do with your child while you’re out looking for a job, worries about letting your child play outside with friends. Public knowledge keeps us in check and reminds us of the importance of working with, not for, our communities on shared aspirations and change. I believe our museums have a role in addressing all three of the worries I mentioned above, and as we do, I think we’ll find we’re developing more scientifically literate citizens in the process.

Our places can be community anchors and change agents. I’m not sure if they’re here this morning, but on Saturday, Andrea, Kellen, and Joey led a standing-room-only session on Awareness, Privilege, and Disruptive Compassion…at an ASTC conference. Yesterday, I had a working breakfast with colleagues from the Cultural Competency Learning Institute, and this morning I’ve been given a chance to share Explora’s engagement efforts. As a field, we’re increasingly aware that it is time to turn outward, look outside our walls, and listen to traditionally unheard voices. Doing those things has been transformational for Explora. I feel lucky to be part of this work, and being recognized for it with an Edgie is very cool.

Those of you who know me well know that I’m a big writer of thank you notes. I’ll get to work on all of yours right away, but let me say just a couple out loud. I’m grateful, of course, to my family, who knows how important it is for me to be away from home a lot, doing work that fulfills me and makes me a better mother. My other family, my Explora family, is at this table, so stand up Explorers. I want to thank this group of people and the folks covering for us back in Albuquerque for being such amazing colleagues. We are going to move the needle, so that New Mexico students are no longer 50th in the nation for education. We know our kids deserve better. I’d like to thank Joe Hastings and Bill Booth for being inspirational mentors in this work, and I’d like to give one extra thank you to Joe for the exceptional leadership he’s brought to Explora for the past three and a half years and for the lessons he’s taught me about the power of listening with an intent to change, radical generosity, and spotless floors.

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