Editor's note: This article was sponsored by the Gates Foundation Discovery Center.
Linda High joined the staff at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center in April 2020. Hired as a visitor experience coordinator and associate communications officer, her primary role is to connect school groups and Discovery Center visitors with the content and work of the foundation. “You could say it was a really wild time to join a new team,” High jokes, referring to the rather conspicuous timing and subsequent immediate pause that the coronavirus pandemic placed on in-person informal education experiences, precisely the type she had been hired to coordinate.
Arriving at that pivot point, when every organization with a community education space and engagement objective needed to quickly mobilize strategies to convert programming for a new, socially distanced reality, High got to work with the Discovery Center team to create virtual tours and workshops based on the foundation’s work.
Two years later, she reflects on what they have learned, and also shares what’s ahead for the resumption of in-person education programs this fall.
What has the pandemic taught you about building flexibility into your programs?
We were able to stay true to our goals in terms of providing people with information about the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, taking aspects of its focused work around topics such as agriculture and some of the innovations that the foundation has helped to fund with its partner organizations, and translating some of those ideas and topics into an engaging virtual workshop format. Those all went great, and it was a really fantastic experience to do that work and to work with groups virtually.
For this school year, we’re excited to welcome folks back into the space, especially students and school groups, and take some of those topics and adapt them to be engaging and hands-on. But we’ll keep our virtual offerings as well. We were able to work with groups from across the United States and also across the globe [during the past two years of virtual programming]. So, we definitely want to keep that option available. We realized, too, that there may still be some questions about whether or not schools can go on field trips and things like that. So being able to provide the virtual workshops just ensures that we’re creating access for as many students as possible.
What’s on the docket for fall programming? What are you looking forward to?
We are definitely most excited to have school groups back in person! I’m curious to see how students will respond to our programs in the space. This year, we’re really going in on these themes and trying to tailor them for groups based on their specific needs and curriculum in the classroom.
We will have various topics this year. We’re going to keep the design thinking workshop, as that seemed to be really popular virtually. So, we want to try that in person. We had a program on the sustainable development goals work the foundation has been doing with the United Nations, and we’re going to keep that as well. We’re also doing a program on gender equality, based on the newest work of the foundation.
We also have our COVID-19-themed special exhibit, which is focused on the fact that we all have a story and an experience of the pandemic to tell. We’re going to have a tour for that particular exhibit. It is really just an opportunity for us to have reflection time with students about that whole ordeal.
What can we look forward to in 2023?
After the COVID-19 exhibit goes away, we’re going to install a special exhibit called “Designing Motherhood.” So, that’ll be coming in the new year, and we will design special tours and programming for that.
Do you have any specific message you would want to get out to educators?
I just would want educators to know that we’re here and we want to work with you and support you to the best of our abilities, whether that be virtually or in person. We really do try to be very flexible. I would just encourage teachers to reach out to us to see what we can do to support what they are doing in the classroom around these themes.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center believes young people play an active role in solving today and tomorrow’s toughest challenges — and it’s excited to share resources and present programs that highlight how young changemakers are shaping their local and global communities, now and in the future.
In-person school group workshops
Special Exhibit: “COVID-19: Where Do We Go From Here?”
Virtual classroom experiences
Explore topics and book a tour at here.