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Science Matters: From a Couple Shows to a Multi-Platform Program Making an Impact

Tue, 08/26/2014 - 10:54am -- Ami Kim

We’re losing our technology edge because too many young people are checking out of science between the 4th and 7th grades . . . we’ve got to find a way to keep children engaged and interested.

Our CEO Curtis Monk shares the story of the birth and growth of Science Matters at the Community Idea Stations:

The story of Science Matters begins about eight years ago. We were airing award-winning science content, like the television programs NOVA and Nature, and an increasing number of radio features. We had a strong set of local capabilities and resources. Our question was, how do we make sure we're directing our resources and our efforts to achieve the most good. We assembled a group of community leaders from local Universities, the Science Museum, NASA, and some technology companies, and we managed to convince Professor Walter Witschey, former Head of the Science Museum, to chair the group.

On the road to discoveryDefining the Problem: We asked these experts what they thought the important issues related to science were for our community. Their discussion ultimately honed in on one “mega-issue.” “We’re losing our technology edge because too many young people are checking out of science between the 4th and 7th grades. When kids check out of science because they see it as too hard or too boring, they eliminate science as a viable career choice when they get older. An important key to our future is to maintain strong career paths for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), and we’ve got to find a way to keep children engaged and interested. If you can help with that,” we were told, “we can make a difference.”

Phase I - Branding, Commitment to Science Reporting: We developed a plan that the Leadership Team backed enthusiastically. Our plan began by creating a brand – Science Matters – and tagging every radio piece related to science with the label “Science Matters.” We also asked our local reporters to commit a portion of their reporting towards local science stories. An anonymous donor who believed in the effort provided the funding for these activities.

Students on the James RiverPhase II - Connecting the Dots: After three years, Science Matters was established as a local brand. We had been recognized by a local Engineering Association for elevating awareness. In Phase Two, we hired a program manager to “connect the dots” between our resources and the community's needs. We gave her a blank slate, and she embarked on meeting and talking with lots and lots of people – in schools, businesses, and community organizations. We established a web site, we created content partnerships, and we celebrated local accomplishments. Again, our anonymous donor played a key role.

Phase III - Expanding Our Reach: As of July, 2012, we’re on Phase Three. The success of Science Matters to date has motivated other organizations to join the party and provide support. We’re currently working on what we call “Hot Jobs and Hot Shots” as we seek to create video content that highlights some of the neat jobs and neat people in the field of science. We want to help young folks get excited, interested, and energized about the possibilities. We’re working with lots of partners and we make new contacts on a weekly basis.

Walter Witschey served as the Chair of our Leadership Team for many years. When he rotated off, we were most fortunate to have Eric Rhoades, Director of the Office of Science and Health Education for the Virginia Department of Education, assume that role. Eric has brought an interest, leadership, and sincere passion for science that allows the momentum to continue.

Inspecting a robot Sometimes, big issues problems seem so overwhelming that people just talk about them and don’t take action. The issue raised by the Leadership Team – finding ways to raise awareness and create interest so that young people develop the enthusiasm to pursue a STEM career – is a very big issue. As the saying goes, though, you’ve got to start somewhere and, if you keep at it, you can make a difference.

Well – we’ve started and we’re going to keep at it. Make no mistake; we intend to make a difference...