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USGS Plays Leadership Role in 3rd Annual St. Petersburg (Florida) Science Festival, Adding Sneak Peek School Day and Mentoring New Science Festival Initiatives
The 3rd Annual St. Petersburg Science Festival, October 18–19, 2013, underwent its third straight year of expansion with the debut of an exclusive Sneak Peek for Schools. Led by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) oceanographer Kara Doran, the school-day event on Friday was a preview of the public festival on Saturday. The Sneak Peek offered 30 interactive science activities to 1,250 teachers and students in grades 4–8.
“The first Sneak Peek day for schools was a great opportunity to expose students from the Tampa Bay region to the science happening in their own backyards. The exhibits engaged students in hands-on science activities that tied in to what they learn in science class, helping them to make the connection between classroom and the real-world,” said Doran, who studies the impacts of hurricanes on beaches and barrier islands at the USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center.
Co-chaired by Theresa Burress, Cherokee Nation Technology Solutions (CNTS) contractor to USGS, and E. Howard Rutherford, development director of the University of South Florida (USF) College of Marine Science, the St. Petersburg Science Festival organized several events culminating in the public festival on Saturday, which offered more than 100 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) activities ranging from crazy chemistry experiments to fighting robot competitions. Visitors had the opportunity to board a research vessel, build a fire, run an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV), peer into a microscope at microfossils and archaeological artifacts, test an artificial limb, launch a rocket, and more. A record-breaking 17,500 visitors attended Saturday’s free event, which was held on the St. Petersburg campus of USF and neighboring Poynter Park.
The school-day expansion was possible in part due to a 2-year grant awarded to the St. Petersburg Science Festival in exchange for serving as a model and mentor for three new science-festival initiatives in the southeastern U.S. The St. Petersburg festival co-chairs are working closely with the festival coordinators who are bringing these new festivals to fruition in 2014: Laura Diedrick, an education specialist at the Smithsonian Marine Station/COSEE Florida, and Indian River Lagoon Science Festival coordinator; Michael Hemphill, director of development and marketing for the Science Museum of Western Virginia; and, from The Citadel, Glenda La Rue, director of their STEM Center of Excellence, and Dean Lok Lew Yan Voon and Assistant Dean for Development Krystal Oliveira of the School of Science and Mathematics. As part of the mentoring project, most of them participated in the St. Petersburg Science Festival: Diedrick as an exhibitor; and Hemphill, Lew Yan Voon, and Oliveira as tour guides during the Sneak Peek for Schools and as members of Saturday’s evaluation team.
The 2-year mentoring project is one of the Science Festival Alliance projects funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Public Understanding of Science and Technology program and administered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Museum offices of the Cambridge Science Festival.
“With the funding from the Sloan Foundation, the Science Festival Alliance is happy to provide a financial reward for St. Petersburg and the other three lead festivals for putting the time into supporting new initiatives. Our goal is to continue to add to the number of festivals operating in diverse communities, and to have those festivals be networked together, until we have reached a critical mass of festival activity throughout the country such that the festival format is proven to work in many different situations. More than anything, it is a chance to show people how science is involved in their lives, and to inspire,” said Ben Wiehe, manager of the Science Festival Alliance.
The USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center, which has participated as a lead collaborator and exhibitor since the festival’s inception in 2011 (see “USGS is Valuable Partner in First St. Petersburg, Florida, Science Festival,” Sound Waves, August 2011), contributed five exhibits in support of Saturday’s event. USGS geologists Caitlin Reynolds, Katie Richwine, and Chris Reich paired with chemist Jen Flannery and student intern Kelsey Roberts to offer joint exhibits highlighting the diverse climate investigations at the science center. “Catch Climate Fever” taught visitors to distinguish different species of foraminifera, microscopic marine organisms whose shell chemistry is used to help determine sea temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico over the course of thousands of years. “Climate Change and Coral Reefs” offered a perspective on how changing climates can affect reef health and growth, and also how coral reef skeletons can be used to create detailed sea-temperature records over the last hundred or more years. Research oceanographers P. Soupy Dalyander, Kara Doran, and Joe Long emphasized the impacts of hurricanes and extreme storms along our coastline with an engaging, interactive physical model of coastal erosion. USGS Mendenhall Research Fellow Sophia Liu gave visitors the opportunity to contribute their scientific interpretation of hurricane impacts through analysis of paired pre- and post-Hurricane Sandy photographs. Information specialist Rachel Pawlitz of the USGS Southeast Ecological Science Center in Gainesville, Florida, shared information about freshwater and marine aquatic species in Florida.
Together with visitors attending MarineQuest, the annual open house held by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, more than 25,000 adults and families interacted with science professionals and learned about STEM topics and careers during the week’s events in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. The joint festivities were particularly noteworthy with the passing on October 18, 2013, of Congressman Bill Young, who did so much to establish St. Petersburg as a hub of marine science research. (See “USGS St. Petersburg Office Dedicates New Building to Congressman C.W. Bill Young,” Sound Waves, June 2008.)
The St. Petersburg Science Festival is a marine science-themed collaboration among the 14 marine science-focused institutions that together form the St. Petersburg Ocean Team, including the USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center, the USF College of Marine Science, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service Southeast Regional Office, and the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, among others (see “USGS Contributes to Success of St. Petersburg Science Festival in Florida,” Sound Waves, August 2011). The Ocean Team partners recognized that as awareness of the essential role of science in everyday life continues to grow, the regional St. Petersburg Science Festival will be a valuable way for scientists to connect with the public. As Rutherford said, “The St. Petersburg Science Festival is an opportunity for our community to celebrate science by providing festival attendees with one-on-one interactions with science professionals. Who knows, maybe a future research project is prompted by a question asked by one or more of our festival participants. How exciting would that be!” Through the St. Petersburg Science Festival, the Ocean Team decided to expand their efforts beyond the marine-science community by inviting a wider range of partners to create a larger community celebrating the wonders of science. The science festival concept inspires curiosity in learners of all ages through interactive activities that astonish audiences.Since 1999, the USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center has been sharing science with the local community through its annual open house (see “USGS Promotes Ocean Research and Education at 12th Annual Open House in St. Petersburg, Florida,” Sound Waves, January/February 2011), and the science center continues that strong commitment as a lead collaborator and exhibitor for the St. Petersburg Science Festival.
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