Science Center of Iowa Blog

At the Science Center of Iowa, our goal is to be a quality community resource for informal science learning where children, families, school groups and individuals come to explore science and technology. To continue the learning outside our walls, we give you the SCI blog! Our knowledgeable staff, along with special guests and local scientists, will give you a behind-the-scenes look at SCI activities and in-depth information about science events.

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SCI Volunteer Spotlight: Get involved as a community group

SCI Volunteer Spotlight: Get involved as a community group

For SCI’s group volunteers, ULTIMATE Spring Break wasn’t about the ULTIMATE Dig Pit, ULTIMATE IMAX or Ultimate Dinosaurs — it was about the ultimate combination of teamwork and community service.

Throughout the year, companies, organizations and educational institutions from across the Des Moines metro volunteer their time at SCI, boosting employee camaraderie and presence in the community. In the past year alone, groups from Principal Financial Group, Nationwide, Wells Fargo, Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, Happy Medium and more have engaged SCI participants in an out-of-the-ordinary team experience.

“It helps build teams and helps us work together and bond as a company,” said Ann Kindwall, a business analyst at ITA Group in West Des Moines. “And we get to help the community at the same time.”

Volunteer time is built into staff schedules at ITA, providing opportunities for service during the workday. During SCI’s ULTIMATE Spring Break in March, ITA team members helped future paleontologists excavate bones with real tools at the ULTIMATE Dig Pit.

“It’s our culture at ITA to volunteer and serve the community, so that’s really cool,” said Jarod Trecker, an ITA quality assurance analyst.

For Wells Fargo employees, spring cleaning took on a whole new dimension at SCI’s ULTIMATE Spring Break, as a group of volunteers from the company washed windows and beautified the playground at the SCI Preschool.

“I think the biggest thing is that our community knows we’re out here and willing to help,” said Matt Miller, Wells Fargo loan administration manager. “It’s a really, really positive experience here.”


SCI Volunteer Spotlight: Get to know K.O. Myers

SCI Volunteer Spotlight: Get to know K.O. Myers

For SCI volunteer K.O. Myers, the telescope isn’t solely a gateway to the galaxies… It’s a gateway to wonder and scientific literacy right here on Earth.

Though he enjoys exploring the Moon, Venus and Mars, Myers is more captivated by the "a-ha!" moments that define SCI’s Star Party experience.

“I really find it rewarding when people see something for the first time and it captures their imagination,” Myers said. “We talk about the 'a-ha!' moment. For those of us on the Star Party crew, we really get the joy of helping people have that experience.”

Those little moments of wonder ignite interest in science and motivate Myers to continue volunteering at Star Parties. He joined SCI’s volunteer team in 2012 and has honed his own astronomy skills along the way.

Myers’ Star Party specialty is the history and structure of the Moon. While he enjoys pointing out specific craters, planets and constellations, Myers’ top priority is creating a space for scientific discovery.

“Children are naturally inquisitive, and I think it’s even less about encouraging them to be interested in science but just not discouraging them. They start from a place of curiosity and wonder and interest,” Myers said. “Any opportunity we have to reinforce, encourage and nurture that is great.”

Myers said Star Parties provide the ideal opportunity for outreach, thanks to their location outside and in the community. SCI hosts Star Parties at Ewing Park in partnership with the Des Moines Astronomical Society.

Veteran astronomers and first-time star-gazers alike develop their telescope skills in the welcoming environment.

“I like the camaraderie of the small group,” Myers said. “There’s a core group of us that are really excited about the sky.”

Myers said he hopes to invite more SCI volunteers into that core group.

“If you’re looking for an experience where you’ll get to meet people who are engaged and interested and passionate about science, there’s no better way to do that than volunteer at SCI,” Myers said.


SCI Volunteer Spotlight: Get to know Dana Kirkegaard

SCI Volunteer Spotlight: Get to know Dana Kirkegaard

There’s a key component in every scientific discovery, and you won’t find it in a beaker, a graduated cylinder or even in the lab. It’s interpersonal communication, the key element for SCI volunteer Dana Kirkegaard.

For the 17-year-old aspiring chemistry major, interactions with participants and scientific concepts complete the SCI volunteer experience.

“Interacting with people is a good skill to have. If you make a discovery but can’t communicate it, what does that really mean?” Kirkegaard said.

The variety of interpersonal opportunities at SCI motivates Kirkegaard to maintain a busy volunteer schedule. From regular weekend hours to special events including Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival Jr. and Des Moines Mini Maker Faire, she meets a wide array of participants with diverse interests.

“You can tell participants here are really involved and take things away from what they learn at the Science Center of Iowa,” she said.

Though SCI is a popular destination for children, Kirkegaard said her volunteer work provides valuable opportunities to interact with adults. Whether she’s answering young participants’ questions in her favorite experience platform, When Things Get Moving, or meeting staff, Kirkegaard said SCI’s volunteer opportunities give her a new outlook.

“As a high school student, I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to work with adults. It’s a great experience,” she said. “You get to work with different people. It gives you a different perspective.”


SCI Volunteer Spotlight: Get to know the French family

SCI Volunteer Spotlight: Get to know the French family

Whether they’re handing water to thirsty runners at the Jingle Bell Rock n’ Run or welcoming vendors to the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival Jr. at SCI, John, Lori and Larissa French build relationships with visitors and volunteers while strengthening their own family bond.

Larissa and her parents are longtime SCI Members and started volunteering as a family in December 2014. Immediately, they noticed a distinct camaraderie among SCI volunteers, led by Volunteer Manager Chris Juhl.

“The main person we’ve interacted with is Chris Juhl, and I think he’s so enthusiastic and he’s so happy to have us here, as well as to be a part of the events, and I think that’s really infectious,” Larissa said. “Even though this is only our second time, he instantly recognized us when we came in and was glad to see us. There’s a real community among the volunteers here.”

The Frenches enjoy regular visits beyond their volunteer hours. John said he stops by after work, sometimes to see other visitors experience SCI and sometimes to try the activities himself.

“I’ll come down after work and walk around the other events you have,” John said. “Those are fun, and I like to see people enjoying them. I like to play with the water at the Power Up station in the Toying with Science exhibit.”

From volunteer hours to spontaneous visits, the Frenches enjoy seeing participants engaged in science learning at SCI.

“It’s fun to watch the kids learning and exploring and discovering,” Lori said.


SCI Volunteer Spotlight: Get to Know John Mclaren

SCI Volunteer Spotlight: Get to Know John Mclaren

He’s always ready to tell a story about the Science Center of Iowa, but one is his favorite: My favorite toy, of course, is the Cosmic Jukebox. We’re the only science museum in America where a visitor can come in and take a look at the subjects in the Cosmic Jukebox and build an audiovisual program. Other science centers can go that far, but none of them can transfer that selection to a full-dome theater. When I take a group in the Star Theater, I always tell this story — it’s an exclusive at the Science Center of Iowa. It’s marvelous to know we have something so spectacular.

He had almost no science education, even through his college years: Everything I know about science I learned at the Science Center of Iowa.

He has one word to describe SCI’s new traveling exhibition, Ultimate Dinosaurs: It’s a ‘wow.’

He’s dedicated to recruiting SCI volunteers but focuses his attention on one metro community: I’ve been on a campaign for several years now to encourage more of our senior community to come down and spend time at the Science Center of Iowa. I’ve seen grandparents here with their grandchildren who are having even more fun than the children.

He has experimented with practically every gadget and gizmo at SCI — and even had a hand in building some of them: In those first three weeks before we opened in 2005, I got to put the toys together. I had no idea what was going to be at the Science Center of Iowa. A number of those toys are long-gone, but we have a superb facility for a city the size of Des Moines.