McConnell programs let participants experience the world in a new way

By Teresa Coons

The recent article by Charles Ashby, “Space fan leads tour that’s out of this world,“described a presentation by Dr. Ka Chun Yu, from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, during which the audience engaged in a tour of the known universe using imagery and data from the Hubble telescope.

This “out of this world” experience left many of us pondering our significance and contribution to the vast reaches of time and space. The presentation was hosted by the John McConnell Math & Science Center (MASC) as part of our “Out of the Ordinary … Out of This World” fundraiser.

The MASC is a local, nonprofit organization that many feel is “out of the ordinary” in the scope and impact of its programs that serve students, teachers, families, and communities across the Western Slope. It was born out of the vision and passion of John McConnell, some 20 years ago and will soon embark on a major expansion effort.

The result will be a larger facility and stronger partnerships with other local organizations such as the Museum of Western Colorado, the city of Fruita, and Mesa County Valley School District 51.

A virtual tour of the universe reminds us of our interconnectedness and dependence on outside forces. In a similar vein, the MASC depends on community support and partnerships to achieve its goal of “creating excitement for science, technology, engineering and math.”

This community support, both from individuals and companies, was clearly evident the evening of the fundraiser. And like the evening’s guests — who experienced the fun and excitement of participating in hands-on science and observing scientific discovery in an up-close and personal way (and maybe even learned something new) — those who participate in or benefit from one of the center’s many programs have an opportunity to experience the world in a new way.

As education reporter Emily Shockley noted in an article last spring, the center works closely with D51’s New Emerson Elementary School to support a STEM-focused curriculum. New Emerson students spend time in the MASC every week, and MASC Education Director Eric Rinaldo works with New Emerson teachers to create an enhanced science/engineering curriculum. However, this is only one of the ways that D51 students benefit from the MASC.

The Center hosts field trips for public and private school classes from communities across western Colorado. During a typical field trip, students and teachers explore the interactive science exhibits and receive a hands-on science lesson. Because of the partnership that the MASC has enjoyed with D51 (receiving space and facilities support), D51 classes visit the Center at no cost. The MASC has also developed an elementary science curriculum (including lessons and materials for related experiments), that is delivered directly to every D51 elementary classroom. This curriculum meets the Colorado Standards for Elementary Science Education.

During the school year, college students whose major fields of study include science, engineering and education, and who receive stipends to work at the MASC, conduct after-school science enrichment programs at D51 elementary schools.

These “fellows” also conduct a wide variety of after-school and vacation camps for students across Mesa County.

Donor funding for scholarships makes these programs available for all children. This past summer, the MASC offered 19 weeklong camp programs and supported other community programs.

The support of local businesses and organizations made these programs possible. Cross-fertilization of college students with different areas of study, and peer mentorship of younger students who may aspire to future STEM careers make the programs inspiring for all involved.

Similarly, partnerships with other nonprofit organizations and businesses allow the MASC to provide monthly Family Science Nights and frequent programs for school and community groups across the Western Slope.

Our ongoing “Changing Landscapes of Science” lecture series, in collaboration with the Museum of Western Colorado, is in its third year of bringing timely and relevant perspective on scientific topics to area adults. And, thanks to support from governmental, nonprofit and industry groups, the MASC offers an “energy science & policy” program to Mesa County high school students.

The John McConnell Math & Science Center is a place that serves to excite, enlighten and enrich the lives of individuals of all ages. It allows exploration of important, foundational, and ever-changing understanding about our world and our place within it. It supports discovery without labels that hamper our ability to understand, and embrace the wonders of our universe.

Teresa Coons, Ph.D, is the executive director of the John McConnel Math & Science Center of Western Colorado. She is a former Grand Junction City Council member who served a term as mayor.


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