Joanna Garner, executive director of The Center for Educational Partnerships (TCEP) at Old Dominion University, is part of a team that recently won a $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to advance knowledge about how museum exhibits can activate STEM-related inventive identities among the public.

The project, funded by NSF's Advancing Informal STEM Learning program, is a collaboration between the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the National Museum of American History (NMAH), educational researchers, an exhibition design firm and community-based organizations.

The grant will support informal science education through the center's Game Changers exhibition project, a planned 3,500-square-foot exhibition at the NMAH scheduled to open late 2022. A Lemelson Center press release stated the exhibit "will transform museum visitors into inventors who will create their own 'game-changing' technologies for sports."

"It is incredible to think that thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds might be inspired towards innovation by a visit to Game Changers," Garner said. "Now, more than ever, we need innovation for the greater good."

While the Game Changers exhibition theme of inventiveness in sports provides an initial spark for broad audience interest and engagement, its ultimate intent is to foster and enhance inventive identity among diverse audiences, particularly girls, young women and African American youth age 10-17 and people of all ages with disabilities.

"We want visitors to learn about and be excited by the topic of innovation in sport, but my job is to help the Lemelson team create opportunities for visitors to explore how they are innovators in other areas of their lives - hence the focus on inventive identity," Garner said.

She is working closely with the exhibition design team, museum curators, subject matter experts and external evaluators.

"Together, we are applying theoretical principles of identity exploration in museum settings with the focal content being the role of invention in sport," Garner said. "Then, as a researcher, I will be conducting studies to capture the impact of this. Before the exhibition opens, cycles of data collection will feed into the design process. After the exhibition opens, I will continue to study how diverse groups of visitors respond to the exhibition."

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