Project Profile

Supporting Rightful Presence in Museum Spaces: Youth as Participatory Designers of Indigenous Mixed Reality Science Exhibits


This three-year project address the ongoing marginalization of Indigenous communities in informal science learning spaces by developing and studying a model that strengthens rightful presence: the idea that visitors will experience a sense of belonging and respect. 

Background: Science centers and museums play an important role in promoting science learning outside of schools, but have historically been unwelcoming spaces, particularly for Indigenous communities. Asset-based approaches that center non-dominant cultures are needed to advance more expansive and transformative models of science that promote rightful presence (a justice-centered framework that promotes a greater sense of belonging and shift in institutional power). This work is part of a UC Berkeley effort called the 'ottoy initiative, lead by Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino, co-founders of mak-'amham/Cafe Ohlone, which aims to foster understanding of and respect for Ohlone people and culture and to repair and improve the university’s relationship with the Ohlone community. The project engages Ohlone youth (ages 5-25) in iterative cycles of participatory design and prototyping to create immersive Indigenous science exhibit experiences using mixed reality technologies. By centering and uplifting Indigenous perspectives in science and technology learning experiences and highlighting connections between Indigenous cultural identities and contemporary STEM career pathways, the project aims to reframe STEM learning to increase Indigenous youth’s rightful presence in informal STEM learning spaces, with the potential to lead to a more diverse STEM workforce.

Research: The project employs participatory design-based research methodologies to investigate the following three research questions: 1) What are the outcomes of youth participation in the design of mixed reality exhibits? a) How do youth develop a sense of belonging, science identity, and STEM career interest, and in what ways do these make visible and amplify their rightful presence in informal science education spaces? b) How do youth deepen and construct new STEM knowledge through Indigenous Science-based participatory design? 2) How can a participatory design model be developed in ways that center Indigenous Science and contribute to Indigenous rightful presence in informal science education? 3) How can informal science educators be supported to make sense of and center Indigenous Science? The research is guided by an Ohlone Research Advisory Committee (RAC), ensuring the centrality of Ohlone worldviews, relevance, and service to community through collaboration. We will analyze the following data: interviews with focal youth; design-elicited focus groups; ethnographic observations of design workshops and reflective conversations; and design products gathered from youth design teams. We will investigate the impact of the participatory design model on youths’ STEM learning, science identity, and interest in STEM careers, and advance understanding of design practices that contribute to rightful presence for Indigenous youth. The research will also generate insights into how to support informal science institutions in facilitating Indigenous-centered learning experiences, and support principled adaptation of the Indigenous Science youth participatory design model in informal science education contexts. 

Year 1 Project Update: The program is named “tappenekšekma: Ohlone Science Diplomats.” tappenekšekma is a Chochenyo word that means both teacher and learner, which is reflective of youths’ role as designers which positions them as skilled and knowledgeable learners. The program involves Ohlone youth and adult family members, who have met for a kickoff event and three design workshops thus far in year 1. The Research Advisory Committee consisting of seven Ohlone adults and elders has met consistently over several months, and created a Guiding Principles document outlining a framework and a set of research instruments to collect data. Data collection with youth participants is now underway and will continue throughout the design workshops and exhibit prototyping. An early insight from this work is the importance of a family-based learning environment that centers Ohlone knowledge and values and highlights the continuous presence and influence of Ohlone people and culture in the East Bay region.


Social Media

Logo for the tappenekšekma: Ohlone Science Diplomats Program


Principal Investigator(s)
Co-Principal Investigator(s)


Award Number
Project Duration
2023 - 2026
Developing and Testing Innovations (DTI)
University of California Berkeley
Project Work State
Target Gradespan(s)
Middle school (6-8)
High school (9-12)
Project Setting(s)
Informal Education
Geographic Location(s)
Project Status
Computer and informational technology science
Environmental sciences
Life sciences
Target Participants
Youth / students