Empowering Youth at the Alberta Aviation Museum

Youth Volunteer Program: Empowering Youth at the Alberta Aviation Museum

Written by: Anna Smythe

For 25 years, the Alberta Aviation Museum has been passionately committed to preserving and relaying Edmonton’s extensive aviation history. As we approach summer, we’re excited to announce a new initiative: the start of a program designed exclusively for youth aged 13-17. Our upcoming Youth Volunteer Program will provide participants the opportunity to gain valuable experience working within a museum setting, including in programming, visitor services, and historical interpretation. Traditionally, our programs have catered to elementary school-aged children and younger, and our volunteer opportunities have attracted older demographics, primarily ex-military or retired aviation industry specialists/enthusiasts. But after reading “An Open Letter from the Kids in Museums Youth Panel,” published by Kids in Museums (2024), our programming and marketing teams decided it was time to expand our volunteer program for a new audience.  

In their open letter, the Kids in Museums Youth Panel emphasized how young people aged 16-25 were overlooked and underrepresented in museum settings. They cited how, as of 2020, “only 12% of young people aged 16-24 felt London museums told relevant stories” (from Morris Hargreaves McIntyre 2020, 48; Kids in Museums Youth Panel 2024). To corroborate this dismaying statistic, the Kids in Museums Youth Panel found that “90% of 16-25s who attended [their] 2023 conference, The Future is Now: Museum Youth Summit, didn’t feel museums were relevant to them” (2024). Teenagers and young adults do not feel like there is a place for them in museums. Museums are meant to be sites of learning, history, and — most importantly —  community and culture. That young adults and teenagers do not feel welcome in museums demonstrates the necessity to devote more attention towards this demographic. Without such action, a museum will never be a truly accessible and inclusive community and cultural centre.  

Our Youth Volunteer Program will provide access to a new audience for Edmonton’s history, culture, and community. We will provide our youth volunteers with the opportunity to work in a museum setting, decreasing the barrier that teenagers and young adults face when trying to enter the museum field (Kids in Museums Youth Panel 2024). As members of our museum team, the youth volunteers will work as docents, visitor representatives, and historical interpreters. These meaningful opportunities and experiences will not only equip our volunteers with skills suited for museum, education, and customer service careers, but will also aid in their transition to adulthood. “Museum-based out-of-school OST programs can positively affect youths’ identity development, content knowledge, skill development, curiosity and interest, career development, relationships with art, culture, and science, and, finally, they provide youth with a sense of belonging” (Mroczkowski et al. 2022, 575). Working together with supportive staff and other youth volunteers, they will be able to form life-long connections, get to know Edmonton’s people and history, and to work in an inclusive and supportive community. Through this program, the Alberta Aviation Museum hopes to foster a sense of belonging for our youth volunteers both in and out of the museum while also setting them up for lifelong success (Mroczkowski et al. 2022, 595-600).  

This initiative goes beyond granting teens valuable work experience and involving them more in museum spaces and Edmonton’s community; by including young voices in museum programs, the quality of our programming will increase. In 2021, Mulvey et al. released a study on the impact of an educator’s age on the quality of a visitor’s experience at an Informal Science Learning Site (ISLS), such as a museum like ours. Mulvey et al. found that visitors of all ages, but especially of ages 9-11, were more engaged, believed that they learned more, and retained more correct information if their educator was between the ages of 14 and 18 than if there was a larger age gap with their educator. In essence, the quality of learning increased for museum visitors who interacted with a youth educator. The addition of their fresh perspectives will also expand the content of our programming and interpretation, improving what we can offer even further! Our Youth Volunteer Program will, then, greatly enhance our visitors’ museum experience in addition to fostering a sense of community among its youth participants and granting them valuable skills and work experience. 

The Alberta Aviation Museum is extraordinarily excited to be welcoming our youth volunteers this summer. We can’t wait to have them join our programming and visitor services teams. See you soon! 




Kids in Museums Youth Panel. 2024. “Dear Change Makers: An Open Letter from the Kids in

Museums Youth Panel.” Kids in Museums, March 23, 2024. https://kidsinmuseums.org.uk/2024/05/dear-change-makers-an-open-letter-from-the-kids-in-museums-youth-panel/.


Morris Hargreaves McIntyre. 2020. “DCMS-Sponsored Museum Visit Trends: An Analysis of

Factors Impacting on Visits to DCMS-Sponsored Museums.” The Department for  Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Government of the United Kingdom.



Mroczkowski, Alison L., C. Aaron Price, Natalie C. Harris, and Angela D. Skeeles-Worley. 2022. “Youths’ Perceptions of Features of a Museum-Based Youth Development Program That Create a Supportive Community Context: A Qualitative Case Study.” Journal of Adolescent Research 37 (4): 571-606. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558420985462.


Mulvey, Kelly Lynn, Luke McGuire, Adam J. Hoffman, Eric Goff, Adam Rutland, Mark Winterbottom, Frances Balkwill, et al. 2020. “Interest and learning in informal science learning sites: Differences in experiences with different types of educators.” PLoS ONE 15 (7): e0236279. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0236279.


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