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Sarah Brenkert

Principal Evaluator, Seattle Aquarium


What inspires meSarah Brenkert

When I was 10, my family took a trip to San Francisco. Somewhere between wandering Fisherman’s Wharf and riding a cable car, we visited the Exploratorium — one of the first “hands-on” science centers in the country. I was delighted by the intriguing exhibits and phenomena, but beyond that, I was astounded that a place like the Exploratorium existed. I was a shy, nerdy kid growing up in a small town and feeling very much alone. My school, my neighborhood, all seemed to be telling me that being smart and curious was at best, an oddity, and at worst, a social defect. Visiting the Exploratorium – this sanctuary celebrating intellectual curiosity – opened a world of possibility to me. From that trip, I carried home two treasures: 1) a huge drawing made with neon markers and a pendulum and 2) the seed of an idea: that I didn’t need to change who I was to be okay.

I will never stop feeling grateful to the Exploratorium for helping that lonely, awkward kid see that she wasn’t broken. And I love free-choice learning spaces like museums and zoos and science centers for that reason – because they hold the power to lift up ideas, to welcome us in and meet us where we’re at – and remind us that as we struggle in our humanness to create, understand and make meaning of the world, we are not alone.


My background is in early childhood education and cognitive development, and for the last 15 years have worked in informal learning settings as an exhibit designer, educator and evaluator. Since 2019, I’ve been the Principal Evaluator at the Seattle Aquarium; I also consult as an independent evaluator for non-profit organizations and formerly worked in education and evaluation at the Children’s Museum of Denver and at Denver Zoo. I am insatiably curious about how and what people learn and feel when they spend time in zoos, aquariums, museums and science centers.


My areas of interest include early childhood and family learning, exhibit design, affective and cognitive outcomes, and how free-choice learning experiences intersect with dimensions of identity. I get excited about participatory evaluation methods and am deeply committed to equitable, anti-racist and culturally responsive evaluation.