When we think about museums, we think of the knowledge we can gain from walking their halls. Typically, we don’t think about the knowledge entering the doors.
Since 2019, we’ve had groups of knowledge producers present. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s (UNCG) Department of Psychology have an ongoing partnership with us as a data collection site. They research a variety of topics about children and family, particularly about experiences with food.
The research completed at GCM is part of the UNCG Development, Culture, & Health Lab, directed by Dr. Jasmine DeJesus, and part of the UNCG Department of Psychology. According to the lab’s
website, they “are interested in how children learn about the world, especially what they learn from other people and how their knowledge or behavior changes or stays the same over time.”
Jasmine established the partnership with us after experiencing great working relationships with other museums. She studies the development of social cognition, attitudes, biases, and eating behavior across the lifespan.
“A couple of things stood out to me,” she says about why she decided to partner with us. “A lot of the research that I do is related to kids thinking about food. There’s a lot of interesting food related things going on here – there’s the pizza parlor, there’s the grocery store, there’s The Edible Schoolyard. Those are all unique things, that I thought, ‘oh this would be a really exciting place to have a partnership,’” DeJesus said.
Additionally, the proximity to the school makes it accessible for students to commute with or without a car.
The partnership is ongoing because there are always new questions and topics deriving from their work here and observing families in action.
The main study, undertaken by Jasmine, focuses on the experiences of picky eaters between the ages of 3–12 and the perspectives of this by their guardians taking care of them.
According to Jasmine, a recent study found about half of all children between the ages of 2-6 develop some kind of picky eating habit. Although it is a common experience, it’s still not well understood.
While set up at the museum on weekends, 2-3 researchers are present to ask families to complete a worksheet with questions about picky eating. Children have an incentive to take part, by receiving a goodie bag of toys afterward.
Along with Jasmine, are her fellow research assistants. Currently, they include four psychology graduate students, with some working on their master’s theses by collecting data here.
“We love coming here – I think all of us on the team enjoy coming on the weekends and interacting with the families” says Keiana Price, one of the graduate students.
Keiana’s thesis is about children’s perceptions of value associated with building virtual and tangibly made objects. With us as her research site, she has already received over 70 responses to her questionnaire. A fellow graduate student, Samantha Alvarado, is focusing on parent’s and children’s understandings and beliefs about relationships within their family for her thesis.
The researchers say if you’re ever here on the weekend, stop by their table located near the clock tower. They love to chat! In addition to filling out the worksheets, they ask follow-up questions for their research as well. Don’t worry; however, the whole process is quick, “and doesn’t ruin the experience (at the Museum),” Keiana said. Researchers accept verbal consent by children’s guardians for approval to participate.
After the research is collected, the scientists will analyze the data for recurring themes. The goal is to publish an article in a scholarly journal. However, for accessibility purposes, the picky eating research results will also be converted into an infographic, which is a graphic display of information in an easy-to-read format.
Performing research here is a benefit for the young researchers, as they get the hands-on experience of collecting data, meeting families in the community, and learning about professionalism all in a fun, energetic place.
“We are so thankful for the Museum welcoming us here!” says Jasmine.
We benefit from hosting knowledgeable scientists and allowing our guests to see the scientific method in action. Our mission aligns with this work because we want “to engage all children and families in hands-on, fun learning experiences which contribute to their growth and development.” Through a partnership like this, we hope to spark interest in research, and promote children’s dreams of becoming scientists!
Stephanie Ashton, the director of education and The Edible Schoolyard, says having and maintaining a relationship with a university in the area is fantastic as higher education is a major part of the Greensboro community, with its multiple institutions.
In addition, the UNCG research team is also diverse in representation.
“There’s lots of different ways that you can look and be a person that’s involved with science,” Jasmine says.
She continues, “we have a pretty diverse team in lots of different dimensions, and I always find it rewarding, for both me personally and for students, when parents are like come meet these scientists.”
Stephanie shares a similar sentiment, saying careers in research and science can feel out of reach, yet children “seeing them at the museum makes it all that more accessible.”
Much of the research the scientists perform is practical information for families to use as well. The scientists hope when families talk to them, they view their ongoing data collection as helpful tools to overcome common issues, particularly around food.
The UNCG researchers are inspired by the museum guests and are excited to hear your input and share their projects’ statuses. So, next time you see the researchers in action, stop by, say hi, and take part! They currently set up shop from 5p-7:30p, on Fridays and 1p-4p on Sundays.