SEATTLE, Jan. 16, 2021—The Museum today announced that it has received new investments totaling $115,000 from The Boeing Company. The funds will support two of the Museum’s ongoing educational programs and a new visitor experience that connects guests with aerospace experts. The education investments will help develop and sustain the Museum’s Virtual Connected Learning program and the Washington Aerospace Scholars program. The gift to the gallery-based “Virtual Docent” program—the first on the West Coast—allows the Museum’s expert volunteers to remain an integral part of the visitor experience while following COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions.
The gifts are part of the $10 million in 2020 charitable investments made by Boeing to support 95 nonprofits in Washington state. “We are proud to support The Museum of Flight in its efforts to provide virtual STEM learning programs to students in our community,” said Gina Breukelman, senior manager of Boeing Global Engagement in the Puget Sound. “Innovative, STEM-focused programming will help students stay engaged during this time of remote learning, and Boeing is committed to ensuring all students, including those in underserved communities, have these opportunities.”
Virtual Connected Learning
Virtual Connected Learning is the Museum’s response to the impact COVID-19 has had on the cancellation of many in-person learning experiences. The Boeing grant for this program allows the Museum to leverage its expertise in delivering STEM programming to students in grades 3-12 and adapt it for today’s online environment. The program kicked off in July, and has engaged more than 450 students during 34 different sessions.
While the majority of students who participated were from Washington, online accessibility made it possible for students from six other states to take part in the courses and scholarships were provided to 121 low-income youth. Leaders and industry experts from across the country were also able to interact with students and answer their questions in a live format. Work is currently underway to create new online programs including tours, planetarium experiences, space missions, Girl Scout badge opportunities and physical “Discover Kits” to use at home. These programs will be launched soon.
Washington Aerospace Scholars (WAS)
Washington Aerospace Scholars (WAS), a separate non-profit organization that operates out of the Museum, received additional funding from Boeing. Geared towards high school juniors, WAS is an online learning course and summer residency program designed for students interested in pursuing STEM pathways through the exploration of space and space travel. In 2020, the summer residency program moved online due to the pandemic. In addition to earning high school and college credit, WAS enables students to interact with like-minded peers and participate in virtual chats with STEM professionals currently working in fields of interest to the students. Scholarships, internships and a nation-wide alumni network are additional benefits offered through the WAS program.
“We are extremely grateful to The Boeing Company for their ongoing support and partnership, which allows us to share our unique brand of STEM-focused learning with students and families across the region,” said Matt Hayes, Museum President and CEO. “WAS is a perfect example of the kind of impactful programming we are committed to providing. Boeing’s support allows us to continue to leverage our expertise and lead, even in times of great uncertainty and challenge. Together, we look forward to inspiring our future scientists, engineers, mathematicians and aviators.”
The Virtual Docent
The Museum’s innovative new Virtual Docent program also received funding from Boeing. During “normal” times, the Museum’s invaluable corps of volunteers share their knowledge of the collection and their personal aerospace expertise with visitors in every gallery. The majority of the Museum’s docents are retired professionals who fit within the “most at-risk” coronavirus category, and therefore could not resume their on-site duties when the Museum was open under the state’s Stage II coronavirus restrictions. The Museum developed “Virtual Docent” stations in the galleries that allow the volunteers to work from home, yet still interact with Museum visitors in real time using large monitors and video conferencing tools.
In addition to personalizing the visitor experience, the Virtual Docent program has helped the Museum’s incredible volunteers feel less isolated. The American Alliance of Museums recently described the program as a “model practice” for sustaining older volunteers during COVID-19.
Images: During an online course a Museum Educator and Museum Astronaut demonstrate the importance of physical fitness for space explorers. A Virtual Docent answers patrons questions in the Museum's Great Gallery.
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