April Awardee


Denee Stewart Freeman

Evaluation & Audience Specialist, Creative Discovery Museum

Denee Stewart Freeman is a graduate of University of TN, Knoxville and Harvard's Graduate School of Education with a Master's in Human Development & Education with an Arts & Learning Concentration. Her work has been presented at the Society of Research on Adolescence and Society of Research on Child Development conferences, as well as published in the Research in Drama Education: the Journal of Applied Theater and Performance. She is interested in the ways that data can tell stories and advocate for children and families in informal and experiential learning settings and does so as the Evaluation & Audience Specialist at the Creative Discovery Museum in Chattanooga, TN.


Student Scholars 

KathleenKupiec headshot

Kathleen Kupiec

University of Oxford

Kathleen Kupiec is a doctoral student in the Department of Education at the University of Oxford, where she explores promising practices to enhance child experiences of informal educational environments. Through her work, she aims to identify both what impacts family visits to museums can have on children and how they might be optimally reached, particularly the development of Lifelong Competencies. In other words, she strives to better understand what it is about a museum visit that makes it a high-quality museum visit. Her current research focuses on assessing the potential that children’s museums have in contributing to children's development of creativity, as well as how to tap into it on the museum floor during family visits in order to increase child creativity.



Miranda Denham

University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Miranda is a Ph.D. student at UNC Greensboro in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. After working in early intervention, Miranda returned to graduate school to research young children’s play in outdoor environments. Over the last 4 years, her research has evolved to include a range of informal learning settings, including children’s museums. In 2022, she began a standing position with the Creative Discovery Museum (CDM) in her hometown of Chattanooga, TN as an intern in the evaluation department. Through this position, Miranda has found herself inspired to learn more about the natural behaviors that museum exhibits afford, with a particular focus on the youngest visitors. Miranda is excited to be collecting data at CDM for her dissertation which will be an observational, qualitative study on children’s exploration behaviors and caregiver scaffolding of those behaviors. This is Miranda’s first visit to VSA, and she is honored to have received one of the student scholarships.



Ashley T Smith

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Ashley Smith is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, in Anthropology and Museum Studies. Currently, Ashley is wrapping up her thesis on covariance in macaque vertebrae. Alongside Ashley's academic pursuits, she works as a Guest Experience Lead and Teaching Assistant. When not buried in research or work, you can find Ashley reading a new fantasy novel or enjoying a cup of coffee at a local café. Through an internship experience at the Milwaukee County Zoo, a passion for Visitor Studies was sparked, driving her to delve deeper into understanding audience perspectives and enhancing their experiences.