21st Century Skills Profile: The New York Hall of Science

Museums, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills

21st Century Skills:
• Life and Career Skills
• Communication & Collaboration
• Scientific and Numeric Literacy
• Global Awareness

Self-Assessment Categories:
• Human Capital
• Leadership & Management
• Partnering
• Accountability

The New York Hall of Science

2006 21st Century Museum Professionals
2004 Museums for America

Web site:


The Science Career Ladder (SCL) at the New York Hall of Science is an innovative education, employment, and mentoring program that hires high school and college students. The program employs 150 students as Explainers who are trained to provide the following skills:

• Exhibition interpretation
• Science demonstrations
• Orientation
• Workshop support
• Visitor interaction (over 400,000 annually)

The ladder is a progression of knowledge and responsibility, with the ultimate goal of producing employed, trained, and mentored Explainer floor staff. The success of this approach is well-known to Preeti Gupta, the Hall’s current vice president of education; she began her career in 1989 as an Explainer, ultimately climbing the ladder to the top rung. The program’s impact is impressive. A 2002 study conducted by the Institute for Learning Innovation found that alumni of the program reported that they developed self confidence, communication and teaching skills during a critical phase in their lives, were more willing than average college graduates to consider careers in teaching, and acquired an appreciation for science and a personal connection to science and learning as part of their everyday lives.

High school students are recruited as Explainer Interns, who help children and adults create science-related arts and crafts and assist with weekend programs and temporary exhibitions. These students move up the ladder through a thoughtfully designed process of mentoring, training and support to become Explainers and together with college-level students become paid staff that work up to 20 hours per week. As Explainers, students are continually provided opportunities to grow their workforce, leadership, science communication and public speaking skills; these are assessed at regular intervals to help the students develop and refine their competencies over time. It is in this visible role where Explainers ensure an enjoyable and meaningful experience for visitors. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed. In studies conducted at the Hall, visitors have consistently placed interaction with Explainers at the top of their list of factors that make their experiences enjoyable.

Explainers work directly with audiences, engaging the public through inquiry-based exploration activities. Through their hands-on, science-focused interactions with the public, the Explainers develop the kinds of interpersonal, empathy, and communication skills necessary to bridge generational, cultural, and religious gaps among audiences. These skills, developed and refined in applied settings, enhance the students’ prospects for continued academic and workforce success long after they leave the Hall. Since 1986, the program has inspired over 1,700 students to pursue professional careers, many in science and education.

The Science Career Ladder illustrates how the New York Hall of Science works to continually improve its internal and external operations to facilitate scientific knowledge, skills, and aptitudes for its visitors, staff, and future community leaders. "The success of our work requires clarity and coherence in how we engage the public and enhance learning, as well as in the work we do to grow and nurture our own staff. The Science Career Ladder exemplifies these values," notes Margaret Honey, President & CEO of New York Hall of Science.