Explorit Turns 20! A Look Back at the First Twenty Years
by Nicole Starsinic

Explorit History Part III: 1992 - Today
Expansion and Growth

Editor’s note: As part of the celebration acknowledging Explorit’s 20th anniversary, we are featuring a series of articles about our history and our future. In this issue, part 3 of a 4-part series, we look at the changes and growth since the move to Mace Ranch Park. The complete series can be read on-line at www.explorit.org.

By the end of 1992, Explorit Science Center was settling into its new home on 5th Street. The first decade was a bustling time trying to gather financial support for a long-term home, expanding programs, and clearly defining the Center’s focus. Little did Explorit know heading into its second decade, what changes, growth and development were ahead.
Even before all the boxes were unpacked, the Center acquired an item that still excites visitors today. A special video probe microscope, donated in memory of Theodore B. Walker, became a permanent fixture in the exhibit space in 1993. The video probe provides 100x magnification and allows guests to take home a video of whatever item they wish to explore with the microscope. The larger exhibition space, the video probe microscope and the creation of regular public hours are just some of the reasons behind the jump in public hours attendance from 2,264 in 1991 to 5,450 in 2001.
But there were other programs destined to expand. Summer Science Classes are a hot commodity in Davis. In 1997 Explorit was still offering an incentive for families to sign up early. Fast forward to 2002 where registration is a random drawing process, a system put in place this year to avoid the long lines of parents waiting to get their children into a class.

Classroom Adventures, part of Explorit’s outreach programs, continued to serve the greater Sacramento region and saw increased growth during this period. The program, designed to support classroom teachers in science instruction, provides an Explorit educator and hands-on experiments for one hour in a classroom. Explorit’s reputation for excellence grew and teachers now reserve space far in advance. From 1995 to 2000, Classroom Adventures grew from 50 to 333 annual programs. In 1998 alone, it served over 8,000 children. And all of this was done with the use of one van. (For more on vans, see “Have Vans...will Travel” page 3.)

Even with the new home, Explorit was already bursting at the seams, a testament to its success. In 1996, Explorit benefited from the annual city Dinner at the Dump fundraiser. Another endowment fund, the Evelyn Buddenhagen Space Fund (for facility improvements) was also created in this year. With funds from both, Explorit purchased a portable building for additional classroom and office space. Finally, with a grant from the Cowell Foundation, the West Wing modifications were complete and on September 20, 1998, Explorit hosted the official grand opening of the new 1,200 square foot space with accompanying outdoor patio area.

The outdoor patio area was enhanced with a $10,000 grant from the Glide Foundation in 1998. Explorit’s front lawn area was landscaped to include a new native plant garden. (Funds from the grant also helped provide improved homes for the live animals at Explorit.)

In another space related issue, the Astronomy Club celebrated its 10th anniversary in 1997. Dennis Smith, the Astronomy Club’s host, started the Club in 1987 when the Science Center was located at West Davis Intermediate (now Willett Elementary). Over the years, the Club grew from a fledgling endeavor to a well-attended club dedicated to helping others “observe, communicate, reason, organize and relate information about the sun, moon, planets and stars.” One of the highlights of the club occurred on August 11, 1993, when unprecedented numbers attended the Perseid meteor shower party at WDI.

On Line
Another landmark event occurred during this decade. In 1995, Explorit’s Web site debuted with information about programs, staff, interactive quizzes and science resources. Befitting an organization dedicated to furthering science, Explorit’s Web site was at the forefront of Internet communication. The Davis Community Network and the volunteer efforts of Anne Hance, the site’s original and current Web designer, made this endeavor possible.

Over the years, the site received numerous awards including the Dr. Matrix award for Science Excellence in 1997 and an award from Lightspan’s Study Web in 2001. By 1998, Explorit’s site received up to 26,000 “hits” a month as people all across the globe accessed its information. In 2001, the Web site acquired its own domain name, through the generosity of a board member, and now resides at www.explorit.org (although it continues to be hosted by DCN).

Programs weren’t the only area that saw growth in the last ten years. Even Explorit’s fundraisers grew in size and scope. Before the annual Vintage Masters Wine Tasting & Auction was retired in 2000, it continued to be a successful and fun event. At the 10th Anniversary Wine Tasting, two special issue bottles of wine—a red and white—were donated by Kenwood Winery. Renowned artist Roland Peterson donated the artwork for the commissioned label. The 15th Annual Tasting in 1998 featured a Guenoc Vineyards 1997 Zinfandel with a special label designed by art student Anita Carney.
The fundraiser that was birthed in 1992, however, continues to grow. In October of that year, the first Corporate Science Challenge was held at the Radisson Hotel in Sacramento. Conceived by trustees Randy Sater and Pamela Marrone, and managed by Mary Sater, this innovative fundraising event pitted teams from regional companies against each other in a quiz show environment. Now in its 11th year and now being held at Freeborn Hall on the UC Davis campus, the Corporate Science Challenge continues to be a major fund generator for the Center. (This year’s event is set for September 19.)
Throughout these years, the Davis and regional community supported Explorit’s efforts with time and money. In honor of the many people who helped make this possible Explorit hosted a donor appreciation night in February 2002 to recognize some of its outstanding supporters. Explorit gave special recognition to Assemblyperson Helen Thomson for her involvement in securing a $200,000 grant from the State of California for facility improvements and to Hance, co-founder, for her long-time contributions. Many others were also feted for their unflagging support.

Looking to the 21st Century
In 1994, Suzanne Ullensvang was hired to be the exhibit curator, and later took over for Evelyn Buddenhagen as Program Director in 1996. In 1997 she took over as Executive Director and her strength and attention to detail continue to guide Explorit to this day. Trustee Lars Anderson, who was the Board President in 1997, said that Suzanne brought her experience developing and delivering programs with her as she stepped into the Executive Director’s position. “I especially appreciate Suzanne’s flexibility and eagerness to try new approaches and her ability to attract very dedicated and talented people to carry out Explorit’s programs,” Anderson said.

Working closely with the Board, Ullensvang and the rest of the staff began looking to the future. Over a two-year period, the Board and Staff developed a Long Range Plan to determine the direction of Explorit over the next five years and beyond. In 1999, the Long Range Plan was finalized and Explorit has already started working towards meeting the goals of the plan.

What are the goals for Explorit in the near future? How will the Center continue to meet the needs of the community? In the final part of this series in the next newsletter, we’ll turn over the space to Suzanne Ullensvang who will outline Explorit’s vision for the future.

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Explorit Science Center
P.O. Box 1288, Davis, CA 95617, USA
Phone: (530)756-0191     Fax: (530)756-1227