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AAM EdCom Awards Presented to 2 Museum Professionals and 3 Museum Programs

Category: Press Release

For Immediate Release

ARLINGTON, VA – In these challenging times, museum education departments and educators have continued to prove their importance to our field and society through the creative ways they engage their audiences and contribute to the broader educational landscape. This year, the Education Professional Network (EdCom) of the American Alliance of Museums, the only organization representing the entire scope of the museum community, is presenting awards to three museum programs and two museum professionals demonstrating excellence and impact on the field.

“Museums have demonstrated the critical role they play in our nation’s education as schools, teachers, and families have suddenly transitioned to online learning,” said Veronica Alvarez, former Director at LACMA and chair of the EdCom Awards Committee. “As awards chair, it is a privilege to get to see the depth and breadth of the incredible work being done by education departments in museums. I feel fortunate to be able to recognize, learn from, and be inspired by the award-winning practitioners, resources, and programs in the field of museum education.”

Determined by groups of their peers in the museum education field, the 2020 AAM EdCom Award Winners are:

Excellence in Practice

Michelle Tovar 

A criterion for this award is the demonstration of best practices in museum education, including a commitment to content, dedication to lifelong learning, and celebrating diverse perspectives. As Associate Director of Education at the Holocaust Museum Houston, Michelle has created programs, workshops, and events for all audiences and has collaborated with institutions and scholars throughout Latin America, dedicating her career to such topics as human rights, genocide, and Holocaust education. In selecting her as the winner for excellence in practice, one judge said, “She is dedicated to her own professionalism and life-long learning as demonstrated by her educational pursuits, fellowships, and scholarships. The work she and her team has produced has been recognized and celebrated by her local Houston community as well as the larger museum  field.  The work exemplifies best practices in community outreach, serving and collaborating with Latinx and other Houston communities. She and her team should be proud of their accomplishments.” 

Excellence in Programming

History Unfolded at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum


Students actively doing the microfilm research around History Unfolded to build the database.

The 2020 award for programming goes to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s History Unfolded. This unique program created a citizen history project in which students, teachers, and lifelong learners across the U.S. research Holocaust-era events in newspapers from the 30s and 40s and share results with the museum, thereby contributing to the historical record. One judge noted, “From third-party evaluation to having participants’ research valued enough to be of use to curators and scholars, this is a clearly superior program. Participants, especially students and teachers, not only learn but contribute to Holocaust studies.” Judges were also impressed by one of the key findings of their evaluation, the impact on student participants. Results indicated that “Students reported the greatest gains in their understanding of the Holocaust, including specifically how Holocaust-era events were reported in local media in the United States, and that Americans had the opportunity to know what was happening in Europe at the time those events were taking place.” Finally, another judge commented on the program’s importance, given current events, “The program is making an impact and is relevant in today’s times considering the increase of antisemitism in America.”

Excellence in Resources

The Walker Art Center’s Five Ways In: Family Activity Guides in English, Spanish, Somali, and Hmong

Five Ways In exhibition and close up of the family activity guides.

Museums create useful, educational resources for our diverse audiences. The Walker Art Center’s Five Ways In: Family Activity Guides in English, Spanish, Somali, and Hmong is the winner for excellence in resources. Illustrated and co-authored by four artists, each activity guide contains five activities or prompts for the exhibition Five Ways In, in English and the artist’s native language, Spanish, Somali, or Hmong–the languages of the largest refugee/immigrant communities in Minnesota. The judges were impressed with how the booklets communicated the Walker’s values of inclusivity for diverse communities and said, “These are really great, especially well aligned with culturally responsive interpretation.”

Innovation in Museum Education

The Tech Interactive The Tech Academies

children playing in museum and woman laughing 

Using a train-the-trainer model, this unique program trains educators who do not have a background in mechanical or software engineering to confidently implement engineering education in the classroom and train their peers. The Tech teaches educators how to integrate engineering instruction into core subjects such as language arts and math using Design Challenge Learning. Judges were impressed that the program promoted and incorporated equity within the curriculum so that it appeals equally to underrepresented groups, incorporates collaborative hands-on lessons, and utilizes low cost supplies, so that a STEM education is available to all students. One judge was impressed with how the program is replicable and scalable—so much so that the program model has already been successfully implemented in rural Iowa, Texas, and Guatemala. “The program seems to be viable, replicable, and promises longevity. The model of training the trainer always makes a program stronger and insures a ripple effect. Tech programs tend to be costly and exclusive, but it looks like this program has been planned around universal access and participation.”

John Cotton Dana Award for Leadership

Dr. Debbie Cockerham

Finally, the prestigious John Cotton Dana Award for Leadership was awarded to Dr. Debbie Cockerham, the founding and current director of the Research and Learning Center at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. This award recognizes an individual, other than someone working directly with museum education programs, for efforts on behalf of public education and community service. The nomination included the following: “I can think of no better candidate for this award than Debbie, who tirelessly works to be a connector of people and a catalyst for change in the way that the public engages with museums.” Reasons that judges felt Dr. Cockerham should be presented with this award included: “Debbie has quite an impressive track record and her work as a researcher and mentor to researchers is impactful for museums and the field. This work is crucial for museums to grow and change to meet the needs of current and future audiences, as well as to be impactful and relevant for visitors” and “Amazing work! I really appreciate the nomination of someone from the research community to emphasize the important role they play in qualifying and quantifying the benefits of museums and museum learning. Her work with autism is also an impressive aspect of her resume as well as her efforts at community building between researchers, museums, visitors, and the community.”

Learn more about EdCom, the Education Professional Network of the American Alliance of Museums.

About the American Alliance of Museums

The American Alliance of Museums has been bringing museums together since 1906, helping to develop standards and best practices, gathering and sharing knowledge, and providing advocacy on issues of concern to the entire museum community. Representing more than 35,000 individual museum professionals and volunteers, institutions, and corporate partners serving the museum field, the Alliance stands for the broad scope of the museum community. For more information, visit


Media Contact:

Natanya Khashan
American Alliance of Museums

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