Igniting the Spark: Discovery World is Providing STEM for Today’s Youth and Tomorrow’s Professionals

Guest Blog by Liz Braatz, Grant Writer at Discovery World

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News recently broke of Discovery World’s $18 million capital campaign to undergo a major expansion and improvement project to alter the way in which the museum impacts Milwaukee’s youth in the STEM education arena.

“We have formulated a vision that will enable us to deepen our impact in the community, and we are eager to work with our partners to make sure that the investments we will make can have a profound and lasting impact on the future workforce,” said Joel Brennan, CEO of Discovery World.

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For more than a year, the Discovery World Team has been working with community partners to develop a comprehensive vision that will shape the organization’s future and make a significant impact on kids in the community. The $18 million project will make several enhancements to Discovery World, including:

•    A 10,000 sq. ft. addition that will be constructed just north of and attached to the existing Technology Building;
•    Transition of the Innovation Theater into a grand new Technology Building entrance and 5,000 sq. ft. exhibit gallery with stunning floor-to-ceiling windows and a direct connection to the rest of the facility;
•    Transition of the Lower Mezzanine into a new 6,000 sq. ft. exhibit gallery that is open to the Promenade and to the galleries below;
•    Multiple new permanent exhibits within two new themed exhibit galleries, a relocated Gift Shop, and other public improvements.

Discovery World is focused on achieving four goals through these investments:

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•    Access – We believe that we can serve up to 100,000 additional guests annually, including many who cannot afford the price of admission or programs;
•    Sustainability – We estimate that we can generate an additional 15% in earned revenue (more than $1 million annually) to invest in the facility, our people, and our strong future;
•    Flexibility – We will be better equipped to make the most of today’s opportunities and gain versatility that allows us to adapt to the ever-changing educational and workforce development landscape;
•    Impact – At our core, we exist to make a difference in the lives of the future workforce of our community. All of the investments will allow us to continue to focus our energy and resources on STEM Education programs that transform kids, schools, neighborhoods, and our region in the coming years.

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It is important to highlight the connection between access and sustainability. Discovery World is relatively more reliant on earned revenue than other comparable cultural and educational institutions (such as the Milwaukee Public Museum or the Milwaukee County Zoo) because those institutions tend to receive more public funding. Often times, the public resources that go into those organizations also are connected to free admission days for local residents, and since Discovery World doesn’t receive those public funds, its ability to offer free admission days to the entire community is severely limited. In some ways, Discovery World subsidizes facility and program access for those who cannot afford to pay through resources generated from those who can pay for them.

This year, Discovery World began to adapt its educational program delivery model to hone in on making a direct and substantial impact on Milwaukee students. Through a partnership with Johnson Controls, the organization worked with nearly 600 students from eight schools on Milwaukee’s north side to provide an intensive, six-week program that brought the students to Discovery World for repeated program instruction with the same educator week after week. An outside evaluation highlighted positive results from the model, concluding: "Students grew in their ability to problem solve and overcome obstacles to accomplish tasks, which is a portable skill in the classroom or other areas of their lives… At several grade levels, students exhibited significant changes in perceptions about their ability to perform specific STEM skills."

Similar evaluations of Discovery World’s STEM summer camps have also produced positive results, concluding: “The majority of campers are considering STEM careers. As campers had above average attitudes toward STEM pre-program, this program may encourage campers or nurture an interest they had prior to camps."

As construction gets underway, education programs continue on. The impact of Discovery World’s STEM outreach grows bigger every day. Our organization’s leaders have so much pride in the work done to showcase STEM, increase awareness of what children can become in STEM fields and show how incredibly interesting STEM careers are. After 10 years at Milwaukee’s lakefront, this is only the beginning for Discovery World; and a new chapter in an already amazing read. For more information, www.discoveryworld.org.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author only, and do not necessarily represent the views of STEM Forward.