As a founder and organizer of the upcoming inaugural USA Science & Engineering Festival, I'm in frequent contact with a wide range of teachers, students, innovators, community leaders, entrepreneurs and decision makers in science and technology across the country.
One thing that I continue to learn from these experiences: There is a growing need out there, even a grassroots desire, among average Americans to understand and connect in meaningful ways with the vast array of science and technology impacting their lives today -- provided that this information is presented to them through exciting, engaging and understandable communication and experiences.
The Festival will be the first national event of its kind celebrating the contributions and advances of science and engineering. It is a catalyst designed to bring researchers and other professionals from these fields together with schools, students, teachers and communities nationwide.
Join us at the 2010 USA Science & Engineering Festival in October as we take innovative steps to make this happen by creating a national network or alliance of science festivals -- comprised of a coordinated array of satellite festival events that we are assembling in each state throughout the duration of the Festival: October 10-24.
This year's Festival features an exciting array of hands-on, interactive experiences in science and engineering, including science open houses, student lunches with Nobel Laureates, more than 50 scientists and engineers visiting local schools and a variety of other events. The grand finale will be a two-day Expo on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and surrounding areas, involving more than 500 leading science and engineering organizations, 1,000 different hands-on activities, 50 stage shows and much more -- all expected to attract over half a million visitors.
But as heady an event as the Festival itself will be, equally important are the grassroots relationships that we will form with individual communities across America through the Festival's satellite events in each state. For this, we're calling on individual K-12 schools, universities, museums, libraries, science centers, businesses and other community-based organizations nationwide to join us by hosting a satellite event in their community during the same period as the Festival.
Satellite event activities, like activities on the national level, will be replete with exciting interactive experiences with scientists and engineers from neighboring communities, giving students, teachers and the public an up-close look at the wonders and future of technology, including real-world application and careers.
These networks and alliances will also allow the Festival to share the best practices (such as marketing information, funding requests, sponsorship information, logistics and participant databases) with individual state participants, thereby helping us form a strong national outreach infrastructure to build upon in the future.
Although the idea of establishing a similar national network of state-sponsored events for science and engineering festival endeavors has been attempted by others, I am particularly encouraged by the headway the USA Science & Engineering Festival is making towards this goal. For instance, at this writing, we have 15 states signed on as participants, including California, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, New Hampshire and Maryland, which thus far are hosting a total of 25 satellite outreach events among them. These events are of all sizes but are particularly comprised of major gatherings such as the events planned in Austin, TX, Clinton, NJ, and Raleigh-Durham, NC. Examples of gatherings already planned include science open houses and cafes, research weekends, and even a "Mom's Night Out" celebrating a mother's role in encouraging her kids towards science, engineering and technology.
You can track our progress through the satellite map and list of events at http://www.usasciencefestival.org/satellite-event-directory
Just as there is a growing need among the public to connect with science and technology, there is a burgeoning movement afoot in science and engineering to meet that need. Scientists, engineers and their research institutions in both the public and private sector are realizing that if they are to continue to attract innovative young minds to these fields in the future (thereby helping to assure America's global competitiveness in technology), they must take steps to engage and inform students and others about the wonders and importance of technological innovation, and how science and engineering impacts the real world. In addition, we also know that improving the public's understanding of science and technology pays big dividends in cultivating a more able and knowledgeable society, workforce and citizenry in all walks of life.
And, through concentrated outreach endeavors, they are. Scientists, engineers and other professional staff are spending numerous hours sharing the excitement of their work with students, teachers and the public via interactive classroom visits, hands-on exhibitions, engaging lectures, on-site laboratory experiences, mentoring with students, creative online videos, podcasts, etc.
One thing is clear: There is strength in partnerships. This is so true when it comes to the challenge we face in assuring America's competitive future in science, engineering and technology, and in enhancing a knowledgeable and supportive citizenry and workforce.
Our schools alone cannot meet this challenge. Neither can government or employers. But partnerships between these entities and other public and private sectors can do wonders by bringing us together to make science and technology come alive in inspiring ways -- inside and outside the classroom -- and, in the end, benefit all of us.