Science on Wheels: Adventures in Outreach

Catherine, SCI's Education Coordinator, has visited 22 of Iowa's 99 counties on her Outreach adventures!

Catherine, SCI's Education Coordinator, has visited 22 of Iowa's 99 counties on her Outreach adventures!

By: Catherine Lowe, SCI Education Coordinator

Have Science. Will Travel.

Our staff loves sharing science with anyone who will listen, whether it’s engaging with a participant in the building or broadcasting facts on Twitter, each staff member expresses this crazy desire in different ways. My outlet for sharing my obsession with science is (insert fanfare here)… Outreach!

Our Outreach Team travels the state bringing live science programming to schools, libraries and organizations. I have always loved traveling, so the opportunity to see more of Iowa is pretty fantastic. My lofty goal is to see all 99 counties; I even have a little map – 22 down, 77 to go!

Whenever I explain my job, people ask if I have a favorite memory or experience, so today, I bring you my Top 5 Outreach Moments:

5. The Adventures of the STARLAB
Astronomy is a hugely popular topic with students, but since SCI’s Star Theater isn’t exactly portable, our Outreach Team uses STARLAB. Essentially, it’s a giant inflatable igloo that functions as a portable planetarium. (I also would like to note that, when rolled up in its bag, it is incredibly large, heavy and awkward, resulting in hilarity when trying to load it in and out of our van.) Once it’s set up and a class is inside, we have to turn off the lights to properly view the stars. This can be a little scary for some of our youngest participants. I’ve caused tears in only a handful of 3-year-olds, but once we address those fears and talk about how pretty the sky is, having them beg me to "TURN THE STARS BACK ON!" at the end is pretty fantastic.

4. Attack of the Dust Bunnies
During a presentation of Boom at Windsor Elementary in Des Moines, I’d just finished one of the first fire experiments when I noticed some dust bunnies had fallen on my presentation table. I didn’t really think anything of it until a few more fell, and pretty soon, everything was covered in a thin layer of dust bunnies (including me)! What was going on? The heat from the fire in my experiment had journeyed up to the ceiling and disrupted some dust bunnies hiding in the curtains. The students and teachers found it hilarious, and we had to pause for a few minutes to sweep them out of the way… and to get the rest of our giggles out.

3. The Proposal
I could write an entire blog post about the funny things I’ve heard kids say, but, someone beat me to it! For this post, I’ll just share my favorite quote. I was presenting Dream Like a Scientist at Garrett Memorial Library in Moulton, Iowa, when a young boy (about 3) suddenly blurted out, "Are you married?" I paused, trying to figure out how I should respond, and replied, "No…" (Some of the adults were chuckling.) Then he quietly said, "I want to marry you."

2. It’s a GIRL!
In a world where the stereotypical scientist is a gray-haired man in a lab coat, the fact that I’m a female often makes an impact. This summer, I was setting up my experiments at Remsen Public Library when I heard some talking at the door. Curious, I went to see who it was. Crowded around the window were four girls (ages 8-10) who, the second they saw me, became incredibly excited and kept saying, "It’s a girl! There is a girl scientist here!" They sat in the front row for the program and raised their hand to volunteer or answer questions the whole time. Afterward, one of them came up to me and told me she wanted to be a scientist; THAT is the best part of my job.

1. The Letters
After a school visit, students sometimes will send me thank you notes. These are my absolute favorite. The pictures and words they share always bring a smile to my face. This one hangs on my desk as a daily reminder that I should always think that "I’m cool."

Catherine Lowe is SCI’s Education Coordinator. As part of her job, Catherine travels the state visiting libraries, schools and communities sharing interactive science presentations. When not driving across Iowa, she works to develop new programs and exhibit guides. Catherine studied elementary education at Iowa State University. She has worked at SCI since February 2011, when she started as a Programs Presenter.

Category: General SCI