Can you explain the type of work you do with the Cooper Hewitt?

I manage the professional development programs for K-12 educators here at Cooper Hewitt. In particular, I lead the Smithsonian Design Institute (SDI), an innovative week-long program in the summer for teachers from across the country to help them bring design into their classroom as a tool that can be used across the curriculum.


What was your background before coming to Cooper Hewitt?

Prior to joining Cooper Hewitt, I was the Director of Education at the New Haven Museum in Connecticut, where I designed and implemented education programs for all ages and cultivated relationships with the local community via extensive outreach and social media. I have worked at a variety of institutions in the art and history field, including the Providence Preservation Society and Newport Restoration Foundation. I received a B.A. in Art History and Comparative Literature from Binghamton University and a M.A. in Teaching + Learning in Art + Design from Rhode Island School of Design.


What do you enjoy most about your work?

I really appreciate the opportunity to work with educators from across the United States. When working with such a variety of individuals from different parts of the country, there is a common thread: educators are inspiring a new generation of youths and young adults, but they see similar hardships as well. It is remarkable to see how innovation is generating positive changes at different scales in schools and/or cities, and yet so many educators have the same struggles, no matter where they live and teach. Not only do I have a chance to connect with so many inspiring educators, but I am able to explore the different cities.


Do you have a most memorable SDI moment?

My most memorable SDI moment is listening to teachers and teaching artists describe how they see the connections between design thinking and their disciplines and seeing how they begin applying it to their teaching methods. SDI was a year in the making, so it was incredibly rewarding to see everything fall into place.


What has been your most memorable moment at the Cooper Hewitt?

My most memorable moment at Cooper Hewitt has been traveling with the whole Education Department to receive the 2014 Smithsonian Education Award in Innovation in Washington, DC. It is an absolute pleasure to be a part of an amazing team.


How has the renovation either opened new doors or posed new challenges for you?

The renovation has allowed the museum to think outside the box…literally. Without a physical museum in which to host programs, the programs were taken offsite. Because of the success of Design in the Classroom in New York City, the Smithsonian Design Institute began piloting it on a national scale, which is what I’m working on right now.


What are you most excited about once the museum reopens?

I am most excited about seeing the incredible new experiences on offer, such as the Immersion Room and Process Lab, and seeing the permanent collection on view. It will be a humbling experience to be surrounded by an extensive and unique collection of design objects.


How would you describe good design? Bad design?

I would say that good design is usually something in your everyday life that you don’t even notice, but if it was taken away, you couldn’t live without it; it can be a system, an experience, a building, a product or something else. Bad design usually bugs you, and instantly makes you think, “If I had my way, this is what I would do.” In other words, it drives you to come up with a multitude of solutions to make it better.


Finally, if you could redesign anything, what would it be?

I would want to redesign the way local communities, including its varied stakeholders, think about and handle existing buildings and structures in their neighborhoods. Especially in New York City, new buildings are built for the sake of being new, or they are attempts to accommodate high density in a small footprint. Often, this means that existing structures are deemed worthless and developers swoop in to tear them down. In too many neighborhoods in New York City, we are losing buildings that represent a different moment in time, even if they may not be “historic” buildings. The homes that are preserved tend to be the ones that belonged to the wealthy, but we are losing the homes that belonged to everyday people. I’m worried that, in a few generations, kids growing up in New York City wouldn’t even know what a house built before the twentieth century looks like.

One thought on “Meet the Staff: Michelle Cheng

Hello Michelle, I wish I was a kid again and a student in one of your programs. I hope you received the package I sent you featuring the new “Squanglecirtrapagon” art form. I would be honored if you thought it could fit into the curriculum in the near future at the Cooper Hewitt. Have a Happy New Year,
Sincerely, Christopher Reid

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