Smithsonian Education Awards Ceremony Honors Outstanding Contributions of Educators to Inspire Learners Everywhere

From an innovative program connecting students to animals to youth-inspired science investigation, the 2024 Smithsonian Education Award recipients demonstrate a wide range of initiatives that bridge science and wonder with learners

A group of people smiling on stage
Dr. Monique M. Chism and Deputy Secretary Meroë Park with Awardees at the 2024 Smithsonian Education Awards Ceremony, April 10, 2024. Norwood Photography

On April 10, 2024, the Smithsonian Education Awards Ceremony brought together educators, families, and supporters from across the Smithsonian to celebrate the outstanding contributions of more than 300 staff educators. These educators are instrumental in implementing the Smithsonian's mission and represent the best of what the Smithsonian stands for—a passion for knowledge, a commitment to excellence, and a drive to make the world a better place through Smithsonian education resources and knowledge.

The Smithsonian Education Awards Ceremony celebrates the exceptional staff achievements of Smithsonian educators. Their extraordinary programming, resources, collections, and research invite lifelong learners, students, families, communities, fellows, interns, and educators worldwide to discover our extraordinary programming and resources.

The Smithsonian Women's Committee provides funding for the program, which was created to commemorate their 40th anniversary of serving the Smithsonian. Many members attended the Ceremony. The Smithsonian Office of the Under Secretary for Education (OUSE) oversees the program, while a committee of national education leaders unaffiliated with the Smithsonian selects the award recipients.

Dr. Monique M. Chism, Smithsonian Under Secretary for Education and host of the awards offered remarks of thanks to the awardees, families, colleagues, and supporters in the virtual audience and within the National Museum of American History’s Warner Bros. Theater. Dr. Chism noted the remarkable achievements and tireless dedication of educators who inspire curiosity, connection, innovation, and lifelong learning. She highlighted that these awards serve as a beacon of recognition for those whose unwavering commitment transcends all boundaries and transforms lives. Lastly, Dr. Chism reflected upon the profound impact of education not solely as a means for knowledge but also as a catalyst for something greater. 

Smithsonian Deputy Secretary Meroë Park gave a poignant keynote sharing the personal story of her upbringing in a small town, her desire to become a diplomat—despite no one in her family having a career path related to the federal government—and her father’s encouragement. Deputy Secretary Park admired Smithsonian Educators’ creativity and commitment to creating tailor-made resources at no cost for students across grade levels and subjects.  

Dr. Chism was joined on stage by Deputy Secretary Park to present the awards honoring the Nominees and Awardees from 2024.  

Throughout the ceremony, local music group FAME—which aims to allow young musicians to succeed in life by providing music training, and career and academic support—delivered talented performances of instrumental jazz. Norwood Photography

Education Achievement Award 
Emily Key, Head of Education at the National Museum of the American Latino, was awarded the 2024 Education Achievement Award in recognition of her impactful career, collaborative spirit, bilingual community engagement, creativity, and perseverance. Emily has served as the Director of Education at the National Museum of the American Latino since 2021. She is responsible for the creation of the NMAL Learning Lounge and its related educational programming for the Molina Family Latino Gallery, which is now open at the National Museum of American History. During her remarks, Emily thanked her team members and supporters for helping her to support young people, families, educators, and people of all ages in their lifelong learning journey. Latino and Latina history is American history. For more than 20 years, Emily Key's work at the Smithsonian has contributed to the creation of new stories that have helped shape our American story. 

 Nominees for the Education Achievement Awards were: 

  • Kaden Borseth, Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute;  

  • Ann Caspari, National Air and Space Museum;  

  • Eric Chaisson, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and  

  • Jennifer Reifsteck, National Museum of Asian Art 

Innovation & Access Award 
Conservation Classroom led by the Education Team at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute received the 2024 Education Innovation and Access Award. The team’s outstanding digital education project makes the Smithsonian’s creative and interactive content reachable and relevant nationwide for K-5 students to wonder, engage, act, and connect about and with wildlife. Through multiple modes of digital media, students learn about animal science and conservation. Erika Novak accepted the award on behalf of the team, recognizing the challenging work, which resulted in a fun, innovative, and accessible program that connects students to animals and instills a conservation ethic. The program to date has reached 52 states and territories and 31 countries. 

Nominees for the Innovation and Access Award were: 

  • National Air and Space Museum's STEM in 30 is an educational TV series. Each 30-minute episode targets students and teachers. 

  • Created for museum professionals, Making Smithsonian Virtual Programs Accessible for All is a step-by-step guide for considerations when planning and executing a virtual program to make it equitable and accessible. 

One Smithsonian Education Award 

Smithsonian Science for Global Goals Team received the 2024 One Smithsonian Education Award for exemplary pan-institutional collaboration. The team’s outstanding accomplishments embody the spirit of pan-institutional internal teamwork, engagement with knowledge partners, and multi-unit collaboration which includes dozens of staff mentors, advisors, and researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, National Museum of Natural History, National Museum of American History, Asian Pacific American Center, and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. 

Led by the Smithsonian Science Education Center, Smithsonian Science for Global Goals provides youth around the world, ages 8-17, with knowledge and skills to understand the world's most pressing issues and empowers youth to take informed action in their communities. The team, led by Dr. Carol O’Donnell, collaborates with InterAcademy Partnership and through inquiry-based guides ranging from Biodiversity to Sustainable Communities; from Climate Action to Oceans has reached 4.7 million students, trained 41k educators, and been implemented in 88 different countries.  Dr. Brian Mandell accepted the award on behalf of the team. During his remarks, Dr. Mandell pointed out that just like the SSEC guides, the Smithsonian’s namesake scientist James Smithson preferred to use common materials in his scientific experiments to make science more accessible to the public. Smithson aimed to democratize science by enabling people to understand science, collect their own data, ask their own questions, and draw their own conclusions. 

Nominees for the One Smithsonian Education Award were:  

  • Helping to Build a Smarter Smithsonian, an internal online lecture series to help educators better engage our audiences. 

  • Smithsonian DataLabs Workshop Series led by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory to engage students with data, increased relevance, and equity in the STEAM disciplines. 

  • Youth Innovation in Rural America from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, inspiring students to be civically engaged, use innovative problem-solving skills, and see themselves as agents for change in their community. 

  • Get a Head Start with the Smithsonian—a program that partners seven Smithsonian units and the National Head Start Association to bring the Smithsonian treasures directly into Head Start classrooms nationwide. 

The 2024 Education Awards Ceremony was an incredible showcase of the diverse and far-reaching impact that Smithsonian Education has had on both teachers and students. From groundbreaking research to innovative teaching methods, the event highlighted the many ways in which the Smithsonian has contributed to the world of education. It was a true celebration of the power of learning and the immense potential that exists when we invest in the future of our students.