Igniting innovation

Igniting innovation

Getting excited about science and technology at the Ignite Innovation Science Festival

By Mark Luedtke

Students and teachers participate in a science program at the Boonshoft Museum, one of the festival’s partners.

Students and teachers participate in a science program at the Boonshoft Museum, one of the festival’s partners.

In a sad commentary on the state of our society, the Department of Education reports that in 2007, U.S. fourth graders ranked 12th among developed nations in math and science scores and eighth graders ranked 10th in both. Despite having a smart phone in every pocket, Americans don’t seem very interested in learning the skills to produce the new technology we’ve come to expect year in and year out. The result has been an ongoing transfer of capital and technological expertise from the U.S. to Asia and the transfer of innovation and wealth that goes with it.

A group of administrators of local science and technology organizations wants to change that. Working under the umbrella of the Dayton Society of Natural History and following a model developed in Europe and recently implemented in several U.S. locations, the Dayton Regional Science Festival will launch its inaugural event called Ignite Innovation. But this science festival isn’t just for kids. Running Thursday, September 22 through Sunday, September 25, the festival presents multiple events at several locations targeted at people of all ages from pre-school to adult.

The Ignite Innovation website explains why Dayton is a prime location for a science festival, “The Dayton region has been a leader in launching education reform and forging career connections needed to fill future job pipelines. In addition, the region has a strong history of innovation and blending people, organizations and institutions for the greater good. More than just a ‘party’ (although certain to be fun), Ignite Innovation will offer avenues for the entire community to begin understanding the amazing opportunities that exist to spark Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) creativity. Ignite Innovation will highlight the people, places and projects that are shaping our local science, technology, engineering and mathematics culture.”

This is an opportunity for the people of the Miami Valley to meet top technical innovators from the region and see their products and services in technology demonstrations. The idea is to excite the population at large, adults and children, about the technological innovation occurring in the region right now and to showcase the local opportunities for STEM education so Dayton can continue in technological leadership in the future.

Diane Farrell, vice president of external relations at the Dayton Society of Natural History, which operates the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, SunWatch Indian Village and Fort Ancient, is the co-chair of the Dayton Regional Science Festival. She explained the purpose of the festival in a recent interview, “The purpose of Ignite Innovation is to bring together people of all backgrounds and ages to celebrate and discover science, technology, engineering and math, and to encourage participation with the people, places and organizations that specialize in programs, research and product development throughout our region. We have a goal of demonstrating that science is in everything, and that a solid foundation of and appreciation for STEM can lead to a better workforce of the future.”

The festival has drawn in participants from many organizations. It includes 17 partners and will present 14 events. Farrell explained this approach, “We hope to present STEM from many different viewpoints and allow the community at large, as well as tourists, to explore STEM by attending diverse events and having memorable experiences. In the long run, we hope to influence children to seek out opportunities to engage in STEM careers and to provide year-round activities to make STEM readily accessible for all. And, we hope to bring awareness to and recognition for those who are currently developing cutting edge STEM products, services and programs right here in our own backyard, so that people both inside and outside the Dayton region can see all the STEM intellectual assets that exist in this community.”

With all the focus on STEM, the Dayton Regional STEM school is naturally one of the festival’s partners. The website www.daytonstemschool.org explains what makes STEM schools different, “A STEM education means that students, parents, teachers and partners are engaged in relevant, rigorous and relationship-based educational experiences. Students participate in a project-based curriculum that integrates the traditional STEM content areas with social studies, language arts, the fine arts and wellness and fitness – the school’s primary foreign language offering is Chinese. The curriculum is directly connected to the real world of work being done by the scientists, engineers, strategists, planners, innovators and entrepreneurs throughout the Dayton region.”

Dr. Gregory R. Bernhardt is president of the board of trustees at the Dayton Regional STEM School (DRSS) and is on the Dayton Regional Science Festival Steering Committee. Dr. Bernhardt spoke more about what attendees can expect from the festival, “From my perspective, we are trying to highlight and increase the awareness of our region’s residents of the many ways that science and STEM is involved in our communities, education, business, military, non-profits, etc. and to increase interest of youth in STEM as a possible career path. We are really interested in having everyone participate, but particularly parents, students, educators and businesses. But everyone should be more aware of how science is critical to our lives and well being.”

Festival organizers hope the event spurs economic activity by drawing visitors as well as by promoting future innovation, and that’s something everybody in Dayton can get behind. For more information, visit boonshoftmuseum.org/ignite-innovation.

Reach freelance writer Mark Luedtke at MarkLuedtke@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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