Virginia Tech and the Science Museum of Western Virginia are formalizing a partnership to provide better science education outreach to the New River Valley community.
“It’s a great way for the university to extend its mission, not only (for) the region, but also to learn from the citizens of the region what makes science interesting to them,” said Mark McNamee, Tech’s provost and senior vice president. “That will make us a better university. You see mutual benefits.”
The museum targets people of all ages, but especially aims to attract younger people so they will be interested in following a scientific career later in life. The museum also targets minorities that are underrepresented in science.
“Informal science education will in fact stimulate more people to consider careers in science,” said McNamee. “We’re very interested in helping the K-12 school system and the science museum is another great way to reach more students.”
The museum already has an extensive outreach system. Last year, around 37,000 students in elementary and middle school visited the museum. 25,000 students benefitted from museum instructors visiting classes, according the museum’s Board Chair Sam English.
“A lot of it is about STEM education — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — it’s what we’re focusing on here,” English said. “We need to be able to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers in our region. We’ve got to do it early, that’s the thing.”
Tech students from a wide range of fields are being challenged to design exhibits that inspire the community the Science Museum of Western Virginia serves.
In an honors colloquium taught by McNamee and biology professor Arthur Buikema, students are asked to design potential exhibits.
The course is being taught for a third time this year, and past students are returning to mentor the new students.
The exhibits must be both educational and interactive so visitors are both having fun and learning, so the class is multidisciplinary and includes students from a wide range of majors.
“The exhibits serve two purposes: one is to teach people about science, two is to let people know why they could be scientists,” Buikema said.
The students’ designed exhibits cover topics such as minerals and crystals, weather, microbes, plants, and human body systems. Some of the projects are being closely looked at by the company producing the new exhibits for the museum’s renovation, which will take place this summer, he said.
In addition to fresh ideas, Tech will also supply money. Some workers, including the director, will have a salary paid by both the museum and Tech.
English would not give an approximate figure on how much money Tech contributes. However, he said that currently, the director’s salary’s funding is evenly split between Tech and the museum.
Tech will also hold two seats on the board, providing a small but formal voice, McNamee said.
McNamee and Buikema are both enthusiastic about the partnership between Tech and the museum.
“It’s amazing the talent on this campus,” Buikema said. “Given the chance, it’s amazing what comes out of the shadows.”