One of the founding objectives of the Women’s History Affinity Group at AASLH is to “[foster] mentoring, professional development, and strongly encourage young women to strive for leadership positions within their professional organizations. The “Women Who Mentor” blog series asks successful women from across the field to share their experiences and advice with women, as well as men, who are striving to advance in their careers.
Mindy Porter is the Director of Education at the Scott Family Amazeum, a hands-on, interactive museum for children and families in Bentonville, AR.
How did you arrive at your present job position?
I stumbled into the interactive museum career field when I was graduating from college. I didn’t have a museum career path as my plan for ‘what I would do when I grow up,’ and in fact I didn’t even know it was a career option for me. I have always been fascinated by science and I enjoy messing around with interesting phenomenon in order to understand how it works. I suppose this is what led me to getting a Bachelor’s degree in Biology. I have also always been drawn to working with children and sharing my passion for science with them. It wasn’t until the science museum I was volunteering with had a job opening that I connected the dots of a possible career. I was offered the position of Outreach Coordinator which was my gateway into an amazing career field that celebrates exploring science in a fun, engaging manner. I was hooked. After 15 years in the museum field, working at two museums, and starting countless programs, I am currently the Director of Education at the Scott Family Amazeum.
What things have you learned or advice do you have for others starting in the field?
One aspect of my career that I have come to really value is the opportunity to build relationships and serve as a mentor to my team members. It’s an honor to help them navigate how to be a professional with integrity and to be intentional in their decision making process. There are several things I have learned along my career journey (and many more things I will learn!) that I often share with my team members. So many in fact that my team started secretly writing down my sayings and put these “Mindy-isms” on a canvas as a birthday gift!. There are two ‘Mindy-isms’ that I would share with other women (and men) in the field: “Be smart about it” and “Etch-a-sketch your brain.”
“Be smart about it” is a phrase I use in reference to decision-making. It’s about thinking systematically through the various pathways available. It’s also about committing to the pathway that supports the mission of your organization, builds team capacity, and has the greatest impact on your audience. Be smart about the path you choose and be smart about why you are choosing it.
“Etch-a-sketch your brain” goes hand-in-hand with “be smart about it”. There are times when “being smart about it” means knowing when to abandon an idea, knowing when a program has run its cycle and you need to retire it, or acknowledging when you need to get out of your rut to energize your creativity. There are times when you have to “etch-a-sketch your brain” in order to erase and clear out the contents to make room for innovation and new opportunities. Being willing to “etch-a-sketch your brain” and take on a new challenge will keep you from getting stagnant in your work and allow your team to take advantage of growth opportunities.
How does the work that you do contribute to women’s history and/or women making history in the STEM field?
We are at a critical point in America where our education system is not preparing our students for the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) focused workforce needed in the United States. Employers are finding it difficult to recruit the STEM talent they need to stay competitive. There are numerous unfilled positions in STEM careers due to the lack of qualified applicants. We are not preparing our children for the future that awaits them. This is especially the case for girls. Girls are falling even farther behind in this STEM crisis as most STEM careers have historically been filled by men. It’s time to “etch-a-sketch our brains” in how we are inspiring and preparing our students.
Museums play a critical role in sparking interest in STEM with a creative expression. Museums also provide experiences and creative spaces where children (and adults) can actively explore and ask questions about the world around them. Studies indicate that an interest in science, rather than proficiency, is more strongly predictive of a young person pursuing a STEM career. The work I do at the Amazeum is in service of providing experiences that will spark and fuel an interest in STEM (and integrate the arts into STEM) for our guests, especially girls. One experience the Amazeum is offering this summer is our Girls STEAM: Dream Big Camp. This camp is designed specifically for girls to have an environment that they feel comfortable in to explore science, tinker, and make things. The week-long camp will be lead by our female educators and supported by our girl teens from our MakeHER Squad Program. The camp will also feature presentations and Q&A time with females in our community that have STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) careers. Not only will the campers spend time being hands-on with STEAM, but they will also get to see first-hand women role models who are hands-on with STEAM in their careers. Our goal is to expose the campers to the vast career opportunities available to them and to build their confidence and interest in STEAM.
It’s a multiple pronged solution to fix this workforce crisis. My team and I are simply one prong of the solution, and when we combine our efforts with others, the impact is multiplied.
Please join us next week for the last installment of our “Women Who Mentor” series. Make sure that you also read our earlier installments, featuring Gemma Birnbaum of The National WWII Museum and Laurel Miller from the National Museum of American History’s Draper Spark!Lab.