By Susannah Gordon-Messer, education content manager, The Education Arcade at MIT
For the past year, I have been a game content manager at The Education Arcade at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When I tell people what I do, I am routinely asked – how did you end up doing that? It’s been a circuitous journey, but each step along the way helped me to gain the right combination of experiences to be good at what I do. In our lab, you’ll find people from a mix of all kinds of backgrounds, each with an interesting story to share about how they ended up here. Here’s how I got here.
I’ve always wanted to be in science. I love experimenting, discovering, and thinking through problems. As an undergraduate, I studied biological engineering at Cornell University. It turned out that I liked evolution, disliked chemistry, and liked feeling as if I were on the cutting edge of research. But what I really liked was math. And teaching.
After graduating, I joined Teach For America, and spent two years teaching high school math in Warrenton, a small town in the eastern part of North Carolina, just south of the Virginia border. I loved it. I liked developing lessons, I liked creating materials, and I really enjoyed working with students.
When I finished my two years as a teacher, I knew I wanted to go to graduate school. I liked the teaching, but I missed the research. I thought that perhaps a career as a professor would suit me. I ended up at Brandeis University in the biophysics and structural biology program. I threw myself into my coursework, and took on a modeling chromosome dynamics project for the biology and physics departments.
Through my research, I stumbled on one of my greatest passions. As much as I liked the research, I loved explaining my research to people even more--particularly to non-scientists and young students. I would sketch my research on napkins during dinner with friends and family. While some of my classmates saw their teaching requirements as a hassle, I felt completely at home in front of a group of students. I had scientific curiosity, but was now certain that I wanted to work to inspire that in others. The question was how to do that.
During the final three years of my graduate program, two supportive graduate advisers gave me the freedom to explore all kinds of alternative science careers. I mentored for the Posse Foundation, volunteered designing programs for The Discovery Museums in Acton, and went to meetings that had nothing to do with biophysics (thank you to the AAAS Annual meeting in 2008, a truly eye-opening introduction to all the different paths I could follow). After graduate school, I landed at the Strategic Education Research Partnership (SERP), writing middle school curricula emphasizing science literacy.
Looking back, I’ve had a series of amazing mentors who gave me insight into science careers that I didn’t even know existed. I had never even though of doing content work for educational games. Before coming here, I’m not sure I even knew this kind of work existed. Now I spend my days designing educational materials that address teaching math and science in new and innovative ways. I am in a research environment and interact directly with teachers and students.
On days when I am hard on myself, I wonder whether I picked the right path. On more reflective days, I realize that each of the steps I have taken on this journey has provided me with the many, diverse skills required to be successful my role. I am in turn a biologist, a teacher, a researcher, a designer, and of course, a gamer. It’s been a pretty crazy ride to get here and certainly not a straight or easy one. But then again, what career path is straight and easy?
The Beauty and Benefits of Science - The 2013 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston from February 14-18 highlights the “unreasonable effectiveness” of the scientific enterprise in creating economic growth, solving societal problems, and satisfying the essential human drive to understand the world in which we live.Along with her role as an education content manager at The Education Arcade at MIT, Susannah Gordon-Messer is the content expert for The Radix Endeavor, a massively-multi-player online game (screenshot above) designed to support high school math and biology instruction. Additionally, she manages school and teacher partnerships, PD, and school implementations for the project. The game is scheduled to be available for large-scale pilot testing in the fall of 2013.
The author is solely responsible for the content.