2024 Scholarship Recipients

2024 Scholarship Recipients

Meet the 2024 AAM Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo
Scholarship Recipients!

Thank you to our sponsor

The 2024 AAM Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo Scholarship Program is generously supported by

Museum Leadership Circle Patrons:

Devon Akmon Carrie Rebora Barratt • Ford W. Bell, DVM • Frederic Bertley • Alison Rempel Brown • Kippen de Alba Chu Marcia P. DeWitt • Ann B. Friedman • Steven S. High Chevy Humphrey • Marilyn Jackson Charles L. Katzenmeyer • Laura & Steve Lott • Karol Wight • Susan Wilkening • Jorge Zamanillo

2024 Scholarship Donors:

Octavio Avendaño Trujillo • Sean Charette • Barbara Cohen-Stratyner • Julie Dunn-Morton • Theresa Hirt • Louis-Marie Pandzou • Wendy Shafir

headshot of Zoe Akoto

Zoe Akoto


Zoe Akoto is the Manager of Learning and Interpretation at the Delaware Art Museum. Having started at DelArt in their Museum Educator Program, she now spearheads the development and implementation of the Museum’s initiatives in art interpretation and education for both K-12 and adult learners. Before coming to DelArt, Zoe interned at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. and taught American history and culture in French secondary schools as an English Teaching Assistant. She holds a BA in American Studies and French from Amherst College, where she worked closely with staff of the Mead Art Museum to develop programs that highlight students of color on campus and Black artists featured in the Mead’s permanent collection.

Headshot of Ekin Berk Polat

Ekin Berk Polat

📍New York

Ekin is currently a second-year MA student in Interdisciplinary Studies at New York University, where he crafts his own major by integrating museum studies, art education, and studio art departments. His academic focus lies in exploring the transformative power of art and culture in fostering positive community change and addressing social justice issues within museums and cultural institutions. Born and raised in Turkey, Ekin holds dual degrees in History, Archaeology, and History of Art from Koc University. He is a 2022 European Heritage Youth Ambassador, a Lifelong Dalai Lama Fellow, and a Fulbright master’s grantee. Previously, he interned at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Art. Ekin enjoys traveling, gardening, and volunteering.

Headshot of Makenzee Brown

Makenzee Brown


Makenzee Brown is the Educational Program Coordinator for the Louisiana State Museum system, Capitol Park Museum. In this role, she curates engaging learning experiences for all ages, crafting guided tours, workshops, and lectures. Makenzee holds a BA in History from Jackson State University and a Master’s degree in Public History from The University of New Orleans. A resident of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, her passions extend beyond the museum walls. Makenzee enjoys collecting candles, participating in a co-ed kickball league, and giving back to her community through her work on the board of the Louisiana Abortion Foundation.

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Nikki Carlstrom


Nikki is responsible for both the intellectual and physical organization of the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center’s 8,000 piece collection. She coordinates incoming and outgoing loans, exhibitions, accessioning, inventories, and all of the records management that accompany each. Nikki also designs, builds, and installs exhibits. Additionally, she inputs daily visitor numbers into a database and creates reports with the information.
Nikki received her B.A. in History at Cameron University in Lawton, OK, in 2015 and her M.A. in Museum Studies from the University of Oklahoma in Norman, OK, in 2018. During her senior year at Cameron University, she began an internship at the Air Defense Artillery Museum at Fort Sill, OK, which lasted until she graduated from OU.
When not working, Nikki enjoys playing video games, crocheting, baking, and spending time with her family, boyfriend, and dog, Bandit.

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Bella Cheng


Bella Cheng is the Museum Manager at the UMLAUF Sculpture Garden + Museum in Austin, TX where she oversees visitor services and volunteers. Cheng is dedicated to cultivating curiosity, community, and connection and loves working with such a generous cohort of art and nature lovers. An Austin native, Cheng graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in studio art and maintains her own drawing and performance practice alongside her career.

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Chriz Dally


For over 30 years, Chriz has been an active member and leader within the Deaf community, engaging in advocacy, education, counseling, and consulting. Previously, she served as the Board Chair of the Museum of Deaf History, Arts & Culture (MDHAC) for five years, before transitioning to her current role as Executive Director in 2022. During her tenure as Board Chair, Chriz played a pivotal role in expanding the Board on a national level and restructuring its governance and operations to ensure Deaf leadership. Additionally, she integrated the Deafhood Institute into the museum’s programs in 2023, a program she has nurtured since its inception in 2008 under a different organization.  Chriz’s dedication to integrating the Deafhood Institute not only enriches the museum’s cultural initiatives but also underscores her commitment to advancing Deaf identity, culture, and signed language, contributing to the diversity of humanity.
Chriz’s years of unpaid advocacy reflect her deep commitment to promoting equality and capacity building within the Deaf community. These experiences have enriched her leadership at MDHAC, contributing significantly to her current role.  For example, during her five-year tenure as Chair of the Kansas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Chriz spearheaded significant reforms that enhanced services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals. Furthermore, her leadership within the Kansas Association of the Deaf was instrumental where, she was the driving force behind the adoption of the “Language Assessment Program for Deaf Children” as state law in 2016.
Driven by a passion for advocacy and community leadership, Chriz will promote the rights, visibility, and inclusion of the Deaf community in the museum sector and beyond. She deeply values her family life in Kansas, where she resides with her spouse, children, and pets. In her free time, Chriz loves traveling to visit extended family, reconnecting with friends, and exploring diverse destinations, including museums and natural settings.

Headshot of Yuna Dranichnikova

Yuna Dranichnikova

💬 LinkedIn

Yuna Dranichnikova (she/her) is a museum educator at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she designs and leads gallery experiences for K-12 students.
Yuna has an MA in Cultural and Intellectual History and an MA in Arts Leadership from the University of Houston. Previously she worked for Blaffer Art Museum, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and museums abroad.
Yuna’s professional interests explore the connection between art and history, focusing on difficult history, such as armed conflicts, colonization, and oppression, and and the best practices to teach and talk about it. Her main goal is to create an accessible and welcoming space for visitors to explore the topic and connect with objects in the gallery. For each program, Yuna brings in her own experience as an immigrant and prioritizes cultural inclusivity and multilingualism.

Headshot of Athena Halsema-Fenandez

Athena Halsema-Fernandez


Athena Halsema-Fernandez is a rising museum professional currently serving as an Associate at Childhood’s End Gallery in Olympia, Washington. Having completed her Master’s degree in Visual, Material, and Museum Anthropology at the University of Oxford in 2021, Athena is passionate about museums as spaces for community cohesion, promoting cultural connection and understanding through history and art. As a fluent English, Spanish, and French speaker, Athena is dedicated to facilitating cross-cultural communication and fostering accessible environments where all feel welcome. An excited conference attendee, Athena is eager to connect with other museum professionals, learn more about curatorial practices, and explore opportunities to help advance her career in the field.

Emily Marchello


Emily Marchello is the Manager of Collections & Exhibitions at the National Museum of Industrial History in Bethlehem, PA. She oversees the care and management of the museum’s collections, and works with a team to develop, design, and install exhibitions.

After completing her undergraduate degree in art history, she worked in visitor services at NMIH. From there she was able to transfer to the collections department, which inspired her to go back to school and pursue a graduate degree. Emily graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2019 with an MA in museum studies. Since then she has enjoyed working with our unique collection of large, working artifacts and figuring out creative ways to take care of and display them. She enjoys that my position fulfills her love of history and her passion for creativity and accessible design.

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Sam Mohite

📍New York
💬 LinkedIn

Sam Mohite (she/her) is the Belle da Costa Greene Curatorial Fellow at the Morgan Library & Museum. She is currently designing and implementing a web-based bibliographic project to create avenues of access for BIPOC identities within the Morgan collections. Sam studied Astrophysics and Art History at Rutgers University. She then went on to work at Rutgers as a graduate teaching assistant while completing her Master of Information (MI) degree to pursue a career in libraries and museums.  
Following a position at Ralph Appelbaum Associates developing original reference library cataloging systems and metadata implementations, Sam was awarded the Morgan Fellowship in 2023. Her exhibition “Astrology in Civil War America: Nature, Society, Politics” in collaboration with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History will be on view at the Morgan starting September 2024. Outside of museum work Sam is a model, movement artist, and writer, contributing to digital platforms and her blog Pierogi Pinay. Her current research interests focus on critical mixed race studies and multi-ethnic identity, decolonial and empathetic frameworks in the heritage sector, and Indigenous knowledge systems within the Philippines and the diaspora. 

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Blaire Mynear


Blaire is currently the Natural History Interpretation Manager at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where she manages a team of more than 40 Natural History Interpreters. She is passionate about creating authentic, inclusive visitor engagement opportunities and does so by leading diverse teams who are thoughtfully trained to craft meaningful and fun learning experiences. Previously, Blaire worked primarily in Interpretation at zoos across the Midwest including the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden in Ohio and the Lincoln Park Zoo in Illinois.  Blaire is a Certified Interpretive Guide and holds a B. Sc. in Biological Sciences and Anthropology from the University of Cincinnati. When not working she enjoys volunteering as a PA Master Naturalist, reading, and spending time with both her human and otherwise family.

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Rosa Raarup


Rosa Raarup is currently the Development Associate at the Weisman Art Museum, which is part of the University of Minnesota located in Minneapolis, MN. She oversees annual giving fundraising campaigns and stewardship events, both highlighting museum successes and moments of celebration at their core. She also manages the museum’s grant process and creation, which support both general operations and key projects. She is also working to rethink what a university museum membership program can look like – while being responsive, fun, and simple. Rosa holds a Master of Professional Studies in Arts and Cultural Leadership with a Museum Studies minor and a Bachelor of Arts in Theater Arts with a focus in Applied Drama and Social Change both from the University of Minnesota. She also just completed a Project Management Certificate from the University of Minnesota in the Spring of 2024. Previously, Rosa worked at the Walker Art Center in the Visitor Experience Department as the Performing Arts Specialist – supporting both the Performing Art Department and supervising front-of-house staff. She values art that has multiple access points, engages all the senses, and uses learnings from our past. During moments of rest, you will find Rosa reading for book club, cross-country skiing on freshly fallen snow, or having long and winding conversations around food. 

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Bernadette Ramos


Bernadette Ramos is the museum registrar at the El Paso Museum of Art (EPMA) in El Paso, Texas. Bernadette’s role as museum registrar consists of several duties that include: exhibition coordination, collections care, research, and curation. The career milestone that they are most proud of is the curation of El Taller de Gráfica Popular. The exhibition included over 200 printed materials from the print workshop in Mexico City founded by artists Leopoldo Méndez, Luis Arenal, and Pablo O’Higgins.
Bernadette started museum practices as a student at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) working at the Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts. They assisted in curation, installations, and framing, and led an inventory/ re-housing project for the collection. Bernadette also worked with the C. L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department at UTEP where they learned about archival practices in a library setting. In 2018, Bernadette was hired as an art handler at EPMA where they worked closely with the museum registrar in collections care, fabrication, and installation of exhibitions. In 2020, Bernadette was promoted to museum registrar just two months before graduating in the MS-LS archival studies program from the University of North Texas.
Bernadette is a multimedia artist who works in printmaking processes as well as aerosol-based murals. The values that Bernadette holds most important in their work are accountability, integrity, kindness, and collaboration. The aspect that keeps Bernadette motivated to work each day is the collaborative experience with the preparators of EPMA. The preparator’s ability to fabricate and accomplish design elements while maintaining best practices makes Bernadette proud to be able to work with such talented museum professionals.

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Sam Scalph

💬 LinkedIn

Sam Scalph (they/them) is the Adult Programs Manager at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester, Virginia. Their work spans from facilitating art workshops, to hosting lectures on segregation, to leading group tours through the MSV gardens. Sam is constantly looking for ways to make programming more accessible, and to bring new community members to the museum. Most recently, they crafted a new program meant to engage teens and adults with disabilities called MSV for All.
Sam received a master’s in history and culture from Union Institute in 2019, and a master’s in museum studies from Johns Hopkins University in 2023. Their work is fueled by a passion for fostering curiosity, creativity, and inclusion in the community they serve.

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Sara Smallhouse


Sara Smallhouse (she/her) holds an MA in Art History with coursework in Museum Studies from CSU, Chico and is full-time faculty at Butte College.  She teaches Art Appreciation, Art History survey courses, Exhibition Design, and supervises Work Experience students interested in museum and gallery careers.  Originally from Northern California, Sara found her passion for Art History and art museums at East Los Angeles College, where she witnessed the transition of the Vincent Price Art Gallery to the Vicent Price Art Museum (VPAM) and handled a premier collection of Chicano/Chicana/Chicanx art.  She has since worked at the Hollywood Bowl Museum, Janet Turner Print Museum, Chico Museum, Museum of Northern California Art (monca), and she currently curates art exhibitions for the Butte College Art Gallery. 
Smallhouse has over a decade of curating experience, and has become an emerging social practice artist, utilizing social practice increasingly as a tool to engage museum and gallery goers in the Instagram era.  Her curatorial interests include curatorial activism and collaborative curation as a model for knowledge production and authenticity in museum spaces. 

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Natalie Vondrak


Natalie Vondrak is the communications coordinator at the KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum. She is a motivated museum professional with eight years of experience in non-profit industries and has a knack for engaging audiences through storytelling. Her passion for learning and curiosity drives Natalie to connect audiences with the past with hopes of making an impact in the future. Natalie earned a Bachelor of Science degree in History from Iowa State University in 2016 and a Master of Arts degree in Museum Studies from the University of Kansas in 2021.

Kalia Vue

📍Minnesota and Ohio

💬 LinkedIn

Kalia Vue (she/her) is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in the Department of Teaching and Learning at The Ohio State University. Her dissertation focuses on the Hmong Museum as a space for culturally sustaining experiences. Her research revolves around museums and museum education, emphasizing asset-based pedagogies, refugee and immigrant education, and AANHPI experiences. Notably, she has contributed a chapter on Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy in Museum Education and has presented her research at the American Educational Research Association (AERA). With experience spanning various types of museums, including science, history, and children’s museums, Kalia brings a diverse perspective to her work. Outside of school, she finds joy in traveling and trying different cuisines. While at home in Minnesota, she loves spending time with her dog, Winnie, and exploring the parks and trails around the state.

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Cameron Waters


As an Outreach Instructor, I have the chance to work with school age children from preschool age all the way to seniors in high school. Specifically, I work more with teen groups in both typical academic settings as well as in facilities where they receive treatment. While I have always known that I wanted to work with children and teens, I never expected to end up in the museum field. Transitioning from education during the pandemic to where I am now has shown me a passion I didn’t know I had.
When I graduated from the University of Memphis with a bachelor’s in psychology, with minors in both Deaf Studies and Studio Arts, in 2020, I first envisioned that I would move into the field of Art Therapy. It was during an interim in 2022 that I saw the position for Outreach Instructor had become available at the Dixon. Knowing the reputation of the Education department, I jumped at the chance to work with the amazing team led by Margarita Sandino.
When I first started at the Dixon, I was gifted with a sticker that said, “I Cry In Art Museums.” Something about the unapologetic truthfulness of the statement made me feel right at home from the moment I walked through the doors. Being a neurodivergent individual, I often have found it hard to relate with other coworkers in previous settings, but the Education team always had my back.  The openness and the way that I feel like my creativity, both in my own art and in the lessons I create, is fostered has helped me to broaden my thoughts of what my future can hold.

Quamesha Brown


Armed with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, Quamesha Brown is an active advocate for the arts and the idea that art spaces should be accessible and welcoming to people from all communities. She firmly believes that organizations must prioritize their staff and internal operations to form a solid foundation of being a space where everyone belongs. As the Metal Museum’s Operations Manager, Brown has overseen several wide-reaching projects to improve internal operations, including crafting the strategic plan, developing an employee retention strategy, launching a visitor survey, and co-founding the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) Committee. Never afraid to fail and always eager to learn, Brown continuously seeks information and initiatives that will improve the working environment of her beloved organization and other arts organizations in her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Audrey King


Audrey King serves as Curator of Education and Interpretation for the Ellwood House Museum in DeKalb, Illinois. Her role includes caring for the museum’s collection of nearly 10,000 historic objects, planning the museum’s education initiatives (including field trips, tour content, youth programming, and an adult lecture series), and managing a group of about 80 volunteers. She is also the museum’s lead coordinator for Arts in Action, an award-winning collaboration with the DeKalb County History Center that seeks to tell a more inclusive and accurate history of DeKalb County. 
King holds a Bachelor’s degree in History from Spring Arbor University, and has previously worked for Mackinac State Historic Parks and the Ella Sharp Museum. She lives with her husband, Andrew, in DeKalb where she is a Master Naturalist, member of the Illinois Mycological Association, and loves tackling new hobbies.

Annie Y. Saldaña Matías

📍Puerto Rico

Annie Y. Saldaña Matías is an artist, arts administrator, and educator from Puerto Rico. She manages the Creative Community Development Center (CEDE) at Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. This unique department co-creates experiences that support creative careers through innovative capacity-development programming, mentorship, peer-to-peer learning, and oversees the museum’s artist residency program. She has participated in multiple professional development programs such as the National Leaders of Color Fellowship 2022-23, AS220’s Practice//Practice, NALAC’s Leadership Institute and Fabricas Culturales. Saldaña holds a bachelor’s in graphics arts from the University of Puerto Rico in Carolina and a master’s in fine arts with a concentration in Photography from Miami International University of Art and Design.
In 2012 she was responsible for converting an under-used university lobby into a formal gallery, Vargas Gallery, thus marking her beginning as arts administrator and curator. There she curated and coordinated nineteen exhibitions and its programming over the course of two years. Upon returning to her native Puerto Rico, she founded Prisma Art Projects in 2015, an artist-run organization focused on supporting contemporary emerging artists through curated exhibitions and events. Since 2016 she served as education program coordinator at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico until recently being appointed the task to develop CEDE. Her work in arts education and management focuses on equity for all creatives, envisioning the professional development of emerging and established artists to achieve their highest creative and economic potential.
As an artist, Saldaña has participated in exhibitions in Puerto Rico, United States, United Kingdom, Mexico, and Germany, including her latest solo show at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture in Chicago and collective exhibitions such as Bienal SalaFAR at Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, Bienal de Fotografía at Museo de Las Americas in San Juan, Miami Independent Thinkers in Miami and PINTA Art Fair in London.

The American Alliance of Museums’ mission is to champion equitable and impactful museums by connecting people, fostering learning and community, and nurturing museum excellence.