Museum staff member turns research into experiential learning

Photo of Teresa MacDonald with the words "unsung hero, Teresa MacDonald, KU Natural History Museum" on the left side.

Teresa MacDonald educates the public about natural history with hands-on learning.

As the associate director of informal science education at the KU Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum, MacDonald overseas four full-time staff members across the departments of public education, exhibits, and outreach and engagement. She holds a doctorate in science education, a master’s in vertebrate paleontology, and a bachelor’s in physical anthropology.

“These units offer educational programs to the public and to school groups, as well as maintain and update existing exhibits while creating new exhibits to inspire and educate visitors. With her doctorate in science education, Dr. MacDonald carefully designs and evaluates programs and exhibits to maximize engagement and learning,” said Jaime Keeler, the museum’s assistant director of finance and personnel.

A part of MacDonald’s job involves executing grants to develop educational activities that communicate research. Recent examples of this include the mobile museum program that takes museum exhibits to communities across Kansas. She also developed an escape room activity that teaches evolutionary biology concepts and is creating exhibits to showcase current research in mammalogy and vertebrate paleontology.

“Dr. MacDonald is both academically trained in Informal Science Education, and an experienced practitioner of it. She regularly collaborates with researchers at KU and elsewhere to develop broader impacts portions of grant proposals. Since a key aspect of the mission of the BI/NHM is to educate, engage and inspire, the work Dr. MacDonald and her team does is of crucial importance for our organization,” said Jorge Soberón, director and senior scientist at the museum.

MacDonald continues to make natural history accessible by partnering with other KU programs. She is currently working with Belinda Sturm, professor of civil, environmental & architectural engineering, on Sturm’s Adaptive and Resilient Infrastructures driven by Social Equity (ARISE) grant. Specifically, MacDonald is developing programming with TRIO, a program that serves first-generation and low-income college students, and library activities for the award.