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I work for a science center because I love science. But in 2017, I was reminded of the powerful impact that it has on everyday life. Medical science is saving a dear family member’s life, atmospheric science gave family members in Texas the chance to prepare for Hurricane Harvey, and astrophysics brought our community together here at the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum (The Discovery) to experience the Great American Solar Eclipse.
Of course, inhabiting these different branches of science are people like you and me. As I’ve thought about how science impacted my family this year, I’ve also been wondering about what inspires someone to decide on a career in science. Where does the journey begin?
For many, that exposure to science starts in school, in an encouraging home, or in a culturally rich community. But for others, disabilities, financial circumstances, or even one’s gender can make the journey towards a career in science very difficult. The Discovery provides an engaging place where kids and their families can experience and get inspired by science. But we know that our success depends on removing barriers so that everyone in our community has access to the fun, hands-on science education that happens here daily.
One way we remove those barriers is through financial assistance. Thanks to generous donor support, we distribute about $65,000 in financial assistance annually. This includes financial assistance for memberships, for the seasonal camps that we host during every Washoe County School District break, and for school field trips. In a school district where 52% of schools are Title 1 eligible, financial assistance to support field trips to The Discovery makes a difference.
Barriers, however, are not always financial. For those who, along with their families, heroically grapple with the challenges of a disability, the path to science can be daunting. Our monthly Discover Your Way program is one way we address this by providing exclusive admission to families with children on the autism spectrum and with sensory processing disorders. These families enjoy sensory-friendly time and parents have the opportunity to share experiences.
The last barrier I want to mention is perhaps the most pernicious. Great scientists, entrepreneurs, innovators and inventors come from every background, ethnicity, and gender. But the cultural undertow is strong and convinces many that science is not for them. As one of our donors put it: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” It is our duty to provide the “see” and so we take encouragement from visitor comments like this one:
“Representation matters. It matters for girls to see adult female scientists and engineers. Thank you making a clear effort to have a gender-balanced museum.”
A great science center provides fun, hands-on experiences to give visitors of all ages confidence about their ability to do science. It also provides the “see” so that everyone can identify with, and get inspired by, the great pioneers that have made a difference to our world.
If you believe, as we do, that science matters and that breaking down barriers to experience it is important, please consider joining our family of donors, members, and volunteers. And happy holidays from all of us at The Discovery!
Originally published in the Reno Gazette-Journal, Tuesday, December 12, 2017.