The Franklin Institute Science Museum opened in 1934 with the mission of sharing hands-on science and technology with the public. Today, with the help of an army of volunteers, the Franklin Institute welcomes almost 900,000 annual visitors. Laurel Ecke began there as a science cart presenter, providing guests with an interactive museum experience. She’s since taught the neuroscience component of STEM scholars, a summer program that immerses underserved high school students in STEM curricula, and is currently working on a grant with the Franklin aimed to incorporate neuroscience into K-12 education.
How did you get started at the Franklin Institute?
I was interested in thinking outside my graduate school experience and learning more about the science museum world so I went on the Franklin Institute’s website and applied to volunteer. I found science presenting to be a good first step; it was easy to fit into my schedule and it gave me a good introduction to working in a science museum. After getting my foot in the door, I’ve since discovered other ways to get involved that are more tailored to my interest in neuroscience.
What’s the most interesting, exciting, or unexpected thing that has come out of/happened to you while at the Franklin Institute?
Teaching the STEM Scholars program was really wonderful. I was so impressed by how motivated and interested the group of students was and how excited they were to learn about the brain. I have also been pleasantly surprised by the other opportunities that have arisen based on the connections I made at the Franklin. Overall, this experience has given me exposure to additional career options and has helped guide my decision making about my career in a more informed way.
What do you hope to with the Franklin Institute (or other museums) in the future?
I am still working with the Franklin on the neuroscience education grant, the curricula of which we hope to eventually make into an online resource for high schools that are interested in offering a neuroscience elective course. I am still deciding whether I could see myself working at a science museum one day. One thing I have come to realize is what a small field it is, and as a result, higher-level positions are rare and quite competitive.
Did your time at the Franklin Institute help prepare you for your current work? What was most valuable?
Absolutely. As a biology lab instructor at Swarthmore College now, my job is to teach students about a wide range of biological topics. Working at the Franklin was a good first step toward beginning to think outside my thesis work and revisit other areas of science in a more in-depth way. My long-term career objectives involve a focus on science education, and working at the Franklin to communicate science to diverse audiences and develop curricula has given me a breadth of experiences and skills that will help me in whatever education-focused career I go into.