Science Museum shines spotlight on diversityby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Science Museum of Minnesota will dedicate four afternoons in January to celebrating scientists of color.
The Science Fusion series kicks off Jan. 5 with African Americans in Science, inviting museum visitors to interact with African Americans who have careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
Joanne Jones-Rizzi, who directs community engagement for the museum, said African Americans in Science is in its 21st year. The other events feature scientists from the American Indian, Asian American and Latino communities.
"It's a way for us to present scientists of color and to celebrate the work that they've done," she said. "We want to promote careers in science, technology, engineering and math and to show our audiences that these careers are open to everyone, and the best way to understand that is to see people like yourselves who are doing this work."
Activities include observing a mobile animal surgical hospital, building domes out of marshmallows and toothpicks and playing with snap circuits. Professionals from 3M, Ecolab and other companies will participate in interactive displays.
While the museum hopes the events will encourage children and teens of color to see themselves in STEM fields, Jones-Rizzi said the activities are for everyone.
"When you bring people together there are just enormous opportunities for people to learn from each other," she said.
The North Star American Indian Science and Engineering Society Alliance and Professional Chapter will lead the activities on Jan. 6. Wren Walker Robbins, the organization's president, said the group will encourage visitors to learn about different aspects of physical science.
Walker Robbins said it's important for young American Indian students to interact with people like them, especially in STEM fields. State test scores show that American Indian students lag behind their peers, especially in science and math.
"There are huge challenges," said Walker Robbins, who also works for the museum on teacher training.
She and others are trying to address a problem they see with traditional science education.
"The nature of science is taught in a way that is really not consistent with our way of understanding the natural world," she said, adding that for American Indians, stories play a central role in teaching about the natural world.
The Science Fusion activities will offer American Indian students something different from what they get in school, she said.
"They really have a chance to connect with other American Indians, other Native Americans, and to see math and science in a way that's reflected in their eyes, as an authentic connection to their culture," Walker Robbins said.
The events run from 1 to 4 p.m. on Jan. 5, 6, 12 and 13. Up to four children get into the museum free for each full-price adult admission. More information is posted on the museum's website.
• Follow Elizabeth Dunbar on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/edunbarmpr