Erin Endress of ScienceWorks Hands-On-Museum: “Perseverance ”

Perseverance — According to ScienceWorks Board Chair Aaron Moffatt, “the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on museum operations and revenue streams. Through sacrifices made by our loyal staff, generous donors, grants, and federal assistance, we have been able to keep our doors open when allowed. Many museums of our size have closed during this period, […]

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Perseverance — According to ScienceWorks Board Chair Aaron Moffatt, “the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on museum operations and revenue streams. Through sacrifices made by our loyal staff, generous donors, grants, and federal assistance, we have been able to keep our doors open when allowed. Many museums of our size have closed during this period, and many will not open again.” As an organization and as individuals, we have stuck together and persevered through the pandemic. Without the loyalty and dedication of our team, we could not be where we are today — welcoming learners of all ages back to the museum.

As part of a series about individuals and organizations making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erin Endress, Executive Director of ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum.

For nearly 20 years, ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum has been a champion of science, inspiring curiosity, wonder, and exploration through engaging and interactive experiences. ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum serves Oregon’s Rogue Valley residents, tourists, and students and teachers at schools in nine counties in Southern Oregon and Northern California.


Thank you so much for doing this with us. Before we begin our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?

ScienceWorks is unique in that we provide the whole hands-on museum experience, but do so in a community traditionally smaller than where one might find a similar institution. This small but important distinction allows us to significantly influence our patrons who may not have access to many other STEM education resources. ScienceWorks’ exhibits, public programs, school activities, and the core philosophy of our Museum (science engagement through inquiry-based exploration of phenomena) are aligned with the Framework for Next-Generation Science (nextgenscience.org), with threads of Earth and space science, life science, physical science, and the supporting practices of technology, engineering, arts, and math (TEAM). Our primary activities include our Museum, school field trips; camps for children; outdoor educational opportunities on our three-acre campus; off-site education at schools and community sites; and, the design and construction of exhibits for display and sale and rental to other museums. Our Museum offers educational exhibitions, activities, themed programming, and special events. Our 17,000 square feet of exhibit space is home to nearly 100 interactive exhibits. We are incredibly proud of our programming and facilities’ connections, and educational opportunities allow us to foster.

Can you tell us the story behind why you decided to start your non-nonprofit?

Founded as a private response to a critical lack of public science education, ScienceWorks Hands-on Museum started with a lot of love and hard work from a small group of families. It was brought to life with the help of over 100 volunteers. After a natural history museum closed and the building sat vacant, this dedicated group found a way to purchase the building. They created an interactive science center with the goal to serve local students and help them reach Oregon State science standards. These dedicated volunteers spent countless hours preparing the building, designing and fabricating nearly 100 hands-on exhibits at the museum shop and volunteers’ homes, and marketing their efforts to the community.

Fast forward 20 years, and approximately 50,000 individuals of all ages from across the U.S. and internationally visit ScienceWorks annually. Since opening in 2002, ScienceWorks has served nearly one million visitors and 100,000 K-12 students. The work hasn’t always been easy, but the thousands of inspired students have been a priceless payoff. Moreover, ScienceWorks forecasts an even greater reach as we grow in our role as a true community institution. And the need has never been higher.

Can you describe how you or your organization aims to make a significant social impact?

As we are all acutely aware, 2020 and 2021 have hit our home in the Rogue Valley, and our collective society, with more than a few blows. Here in Southern Oregon, we have rallied around those hardest hit by wildfires and dealt with our immediate hardships and sacrifices. This year has also brought to light a lack of essential critical thinking skills, trust in, and understanding of science. ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum, passionately serving our community since 2002, has played a vital role in developing those skills across all ages and walks of life. Now, ScienceWorks’ mission is especially important to help us sharpen those skills and rekindle our sense of wonder and awe at the world around us.

As we dive into reopening after a six-month closure, we are thrilled to welcome members, visitors, high school interns, and day campers back to the museum. We offer in-museum programming, including science demonstrations, open-ended maker activities, and early childhood storytimes. Our science-themed summer day camps are geared towards students ages 5–12 and include science investigations and museum exploration time. Programming is supported by trained staff and high school and university interns pursuing STEM or education fields. All of ScienceWorks’ programs are designed to promote critical and creative thinking skills by facilitating scientific inquiry.

Without saying any names, can you share a story about an individual who was helped by your idea so far?

The museum focuses on interactive exhibits and programs that educate, entertain, and inspire a lifelong passion for learning. As a Museums for All participant, ScienceWorks offers significantly reduced admission to all visitors on the First Sunday of every month and to EBT cardholders during regular operating hours.

Following a mandated COVID-closure in spring 2020, the museum was able to open in a reduced capacity over the summer and continued its First Sunday Museums for All pricing. The Almeda fire started in Ashland and moved through the neighboring towns of Talent and Phoenix on September 8, 2020, destroying nearly 2,500 residential structures and displacing more than 42,000 people.

In the fire’s aftermath, ScienceWorks decided to extend Museums for All pricing to all visitors to the museum. The ScienceWorks team wanted people to find a place of respite amongst the devastation caused by fire and the continuing stresses of the pandemic.

After interacting with a family at the painting pendulum, Operations Manager Cora Schweiger shared, “I was asking a four-year-old child about what their pushes were doing to the table. This child stood back and considered that question and said earnestly, ‘Our house burned down! But I am having a lot of fun!” We will continue proudly participating in the Museum for All program in our efforts to make ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum a welcoming and accessible place for all, especially as our communities rebuild following the Almeda fire.

Field trips to ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum are a memorable part of many local students’ school experience in a typical year. Field trips include a 20–30 minute ScienceLive! Demonstration incorporating audience participation and covering such topics as cause and effect, chemical and physical changes, and properties of matter; a 40–60 minute STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) Lab experience, such as Scientific Illustration and Lego Earthquake Design; and accessible exploration of the Museum during which students are accompanied by chaperones and engaged by Museum volunteers.

Thanks to funding from local foundations and individual donors, ScienceWorks can offer reduced pricing on field trips to Title I schools. As a result of these programs, thousands of Title I students have received science education and hands-on experience otherwise unavailable. We have seen firsthand the positive impact our field trip, and classroom outreach program has on thousands of Title I students. Some students arrive eager, excited, and ready to jump into the creative learning environment we provide. Others appear disengaged at first — but by the end of the program are energized and actively participating. ScienceWorks’ Educators and the Title I school teachers routinely observe students gaining confidence in their abilities to explore, experiment, and learn in the creative, hands-on setting ScienceWorks provides.

Throughout 2021, ScienceWorks will continue to work with partner organizations and foundations to deliver quality science education and content to students, families, and communities throughout the Rogue Valley.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Donate — Non-profits require fiscal support. Donating money helps keep the mission alive and enables organizations to do good in their communities.

Volunteer — Give the gift of time to support the organizations and causes you believe in. Sometimes the greatest need is people to help do the work.

Discuss — Talk with friends and family about the importance of science.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I think “leadership” sometimes gets too built up to mean having some seismic influence on the world. We are all leaders in some way in our respective lives and within ourselves. If we can all learn to be humble seekers of the world around us and then advocate for what we believe and for those around us, that is how real positive change occurs.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 things a person should know before they decide to start a non-profit”. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Research — Is there truly a need for your organization? Is someone already doing similar work?
  2. Collaboration — Similar to the concept that it ‘takes a village’ to raise a child, one cannot overemphasize the importance of teamwork in bringing a nonprofit to life. We are stronger when we work together. Consider partnering with similar organizations to further a common goal or do work that complements each mission.
  3. Plan — Have a clear roadmap of what you want to accomplish and how you will get it done. Anticipating needs, costs, and priorities will …
  4. Flexibility — Not all things go according to plan. Keeping an open mind and considering multiple options is a must.
  5. Perseverance — According to ScienceWorks Board Chair Aaron Moffatt, “the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on museum operations and revenue streams. Through sacrifices made by our loyal staff, generous donors, grants, and federal assistance, we have been able to keep our doors open when allowed. Many museums of our size have closed during this period, and many will not open again.” As an organization and as individuals, we have stuck together and persevered through the pandemic. Without the loyalty and dedication of our team, we could not be where we are today — welcoming learners of all ages back to the museum.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to to share the idea behind your non profit? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

It might sound cliche as a female science museum director, but I would love for prominent female scientists, women like astronaut Mae Jemison, to see the work we are doing and know that there are places like ScienceWorks out there trying to continue carrying the torch to inspire young women to pursue their passions in science. And, we would, of course, welcome any insight and advice they might provide.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson” Quote? How is that relevant to you in your life?

“The important thing is never to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” (Albert Einstein)

I love acknowledging that I don’t know everything, especially with children. I love asking questions, challenging my mind, and investigating new concepts. As human beings, we are curious. We explore, we question, we seek to understand. While this curiosity is innate, it can also be fostered. At ScienceWorks, we strive to engage learners of all ages in exploring the world around them.

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers can check out our website at scienceworksmuseum.org,

Follow us on Facebook: facebook.com/scienceworksmuseum

https://www.instagram.com/scienceworksmuseum/

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your mission.

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