March 2009: KC Science, INC – Inspiring Natural Curiosity In Science
Several years ago, Kansas City leaders decided to boost future economic growth by developing science and engineering skills in the area’s work force. There was a problem though: Kansas City’s workers and students weren’t very interested in science and engineering.
So, five organizations, including a library and museum, founded KC Science, INC to improve science literacy in the bi-state Kansas City metropolitan region. Partners included the Johnson County (KS) Library as the lead partner; Science City, the region’s premier science museum; KCPT, the local public television station; Science Pioneers, a group that produces educational materials and activities for teachers and students; and Pathfinder Science, an online collaborative community of teachers and students engaging in scientific research. The group received a 2006 Partnership for a Nation of Learners* grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) because the community partnership’s focus on science-related careers and lifelong learning helped build a foundation for an informed citizenry.
"We were really trying to create a public appreciation campaign for science, and help broaden people’s idea of science," said Erica Reynolds, project director and Web content manager at the Johnson County Library.
In talking with science educators before applying for the grant, KC Science, INC learned that to boost public appreciation for science they would have to reacquaint the public with science as nature and the scientific process as an outgrowth of natural curiosity. Hence, the KC Science, INC slogan, "Inspiring Natural Curiosity."
"We really wanted to focus the science-related programming on things that everybody can appreciate," said Reynolds. "Science isn’t just the polarized debates. Science isn’t just a person in a lab coat. Science really is our world and our curiosity and our discovery. Science isn’t about answers. It’s about asking questions."
KC Science, INC produced several cross-promotional media campaigns in 2007, as well as a Web site – kcscienceinc.org – and more than 100 library programs. Among the partnership’s biggest hits were its Family Science Nights featuring more than 50 hands-on science exhibits and the opportunity to meet local scientists at the library and Science City.
The science television programming was also very popular. KCPT televised four national science programs on the topics of science education, global warming, science and religion, and genetically modified foods. The station also produced and broadcasted four local community forums exploring the same issues from a local angle. Each set of broadcasts was coupled with a library-based forum discussion.
In addition, KCPT created 10 one-minute "I’m a Scientist" TV vignettes about local scientists and their careers. The clips profiled a broad range of science professionals, such as the director of the University of Kansas Cancer Center, a forensic scientist, and a meteorologist. The station showed the vignettes regularly, especially during the October 2007 promotional push. KC Science, INC also promoted the videos on its Web site and on YouTube. The clips were also shown continually by a local school district TV channel during the 2007-2008 school year.
"What we did is to really broaden the public’s idea of what a science career might be like and to feature different sorts of science superstars who are engaged in our community. My favorite example is with a color scientist, or a color engineer, from Hallmark. It’s a great example of how we stretched people’s concept of what science is," said Reynolds.
The library hosted hands-on Mad Science programs, held in conjunction with the summer reading program, and integrated science into other children’s activities.
"It stretches people’s idea of what science is when their youth services librarian is talking about science at story time," said Reynolds.
Efforts Pay Off
KC Science, INC tapped into a vein of latent community interest in science. During the 18-month program, more than 150,000 people engaged in hands-on science activities and science-based discussions designed to inspire their natural curiosity. The free Family Science Nights at the Science City museum drew great crowds; three of the four nights drew more than 2,000 people and the total attendance of 7,395 almost doubled the goal of 4,000. These events took place at a downtown location – historic Union Station – on Monday nights in all seasons of the year.
One science-issue forum ("The Burning Question: How do we solve our energy problem?") was the largest – 74 people attended -- in the library’s five-year history of hosting forums. The national TV shows drew a total of 138,000 viewers, including 33,000 for the NOVA special, "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial." That night 94 percent of the viewers stayed tuned for the community forum. More than 10,000 people viewed the one-minute video vignettes on YouTube about local scientists and their careers.
Another measure of success was the addition of five more partners to the project: the Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering and Technology; Children’s Museum of Kansas City; Wonderscope, another children’s museum; Uplink/Youth Friends, which partners with school districts to connect young people with caring adult volunteers to promote success and healthy behaviors; and the Astronomical Society of Kansas City.
In his program evaluation, Dr. Steven Case noted that KC Science, INC has created a well-coordinated community that synergistically produced awareness and appreciation of science in the region. He added that Family Science Night at Science City has done an outstanding job of reaching underserved populations in the region.
Another measure of the program’s success is that the partnership continued after the grant ended in April 2008. KC Science, INC now has more than 13 formal and informal partners; this "group of groups" plans to continue to promotescience careers in the near future.
"Now we’re kind of seen as more of a player in the whole area, so people know that if they want to get their information out to the public about math- and science-related fun activities or events going on in town, then they just need to contact us," said Reynolds.
* The Partnership for a Nation of Learners was a two-year collaboration between IMLS and CPB. IMLS will issue a full report on the program, including additional grantee profiles, later this year. IMLS continues to support collaborative activity in many of its grant programs. One category of the National Leadership Grant program is specifically devoted to museum-library collaborations. For more information, please click here.