Mwenda Kudumu ’23PHD: ‘It’s Been My Mission to Popularize Science in Black and Brown Communities’
When she was growing up in San Diego, the Fleet Science Center was a fixture in Mwenda Kudumu’s life. She remembers watching celestial projections inside its planetarium, as well as attending laser shows and IMAX movies. Now, as a recent graduate of the NC State College of Education’s Learning and Teaching in STEM: Science Education concentration, Kudumu is returning to Fleet Science Center, not as a visitor, but as its vice president of community service and engagement.
“I’m really excited about joining them and helping them to achieve their mission of being a community-first organization and putting Fleet into the community as well as the community into Fleet. “
Since its inception as the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center, the museum has not only expanded from its initial emphasis on outer space but also doubled in size, housing numerous galleries of interactive science and technology exhibits. In her role, Kudumu will work with the exhibits department and the education department to extend the science center’s reach into the San Diego community, especially surrounding neighborhoods.
“It’s not just programming around the neighborhoods, but actually how to become community-centered and community-focused,” Kumudu said.
For Kudumu, who has worked previously in museums from Durham to Ghana, the role allows her to continue to pursue her passion for expanding access to science.
“When I worked in science centers in the United States, I really noticed that there were not a lot of Black and Brown people,” Kudumu said. “It’s been my mission to popularize science in Black and Brown communities.”
Kudumu’s interest in informal education as it relates to popularizing science is what drew her to the NC State College of Education. She knew she wanted to earn her Ph.D., and once she discovered Associate Professor K.C. Busch, who studies informal learning, was joining the college, Kudumu was sold. As a doctoral student, Kudumu was able to learn more about subjects such as educational theory and qualitative research, while also building on the experiences she had already gained throughout her career.
“It did give me context,” Kudumu said. “When I started to see how much research was already out there, in terms of informal education and also in terms of research on culturally-centered pedagogies, that was mind blowing.”
Her dissertation, entitled, The Perceptions and Practices of Informal Science Educators regarding Culturally Relevant Education in Science Centers, is directly applicable to her new role at the Fleet Science Center.
“I’m hoping to help inform the work that we do at the science center and to have the work that we do inform the research that’s coming out of universities regarding informal education,” Kudumu said.
At the Fleet Science Center, Kudumu’s goal is to ensure a new generation discovers their passion for science, just as she did years before.
“We all need Black and Brown voices to be a part of science,” Kudumu said. “The world needs it. That’s what I want to do. I want to popularize science in these communities to make it interesting and popular and something that people recognize that they do and want to engage with.”