Explorit Turns 20!
by Suzanne Ullensvang, Executive Director

Explorit History Part IV
Looking Ahead to the Future

“To plant a seed is to believe in the future.”

Twenty years ago, a small group of community-minded scientists and educators planted the seed that has blossomed into Explorit Science Center. Since that beginning, hundreds of special people have also helped to nurture Explorit’s growth, fostering deep roots in the community and promoting spreading branches that now reach far into the region. Each “gardener,” whether volunteer, staff member, Trustee, or community supporter has played some important role in shaping Explorit over the past two decades. With deepest gratitude, we extend thanks to the many people who have given so generously of their time, talents and support over the years.

How do we even begin to tally the impact of 20 years of engaging children and adults in the wonder and discovery of science? Since 1982, Explorit has involved over 650,000 people in its programs — but numbers like this only begin to tell the story. Flip through the pages of 20 years of visitor books or skim through the reams of letters and drawings from children who’ve visited the Center. These reveal the more personal impact of Explorit... “my three grandkids and I had a wonderful day together here”...”great experiments – fun and relevant”...”terrific work, teachers and parents really appreciate your programs”...”a really neat place to get hands-on with kids”...”when I do science I feel good and smart!”

A Growing Influence
Some stories suggest Explorit’s impact goes even further than we might imagine. For example, not long ago a young couple from Italy stopped into the Center. The man, no more than thirty, came eagerly into my office, sat down and said with his engaging accent, ”I need your help, I want to start a science center in my hometown in Italy. How do I do this and what can I learn from how Explorit started?”

I related some tales about Explorit’s early years — about the visionary founders, the generous community members, the creative leaders — who shaped the organization during its first two decades. We talked about the threads woven, unbroken, through the Center’s history — the focused mission, the informal and involving style, and the dedicated people who’ve shared a passion for engaging all ages in exploring the wonders of science in our lives.

Soon my Italian visitor revealed that he, too, had stories about Explorit’s early years because his family had moved to Davis for a brief time when he was a child. He recalled vividly his experiences at the Science Center. “I remember going there after school and learning how to program a computer and doing experiments. It made me want to be an engineer.”

This man had discovered and followed his dream to become an engineer, at least partly because of his early experiences at the Center. He was now eager to make those same types of memorable, hands-on experiences available for children and families in his hometown. Explorit planted this seed that will sprout in Italy — we can only imagine where else seeds might have already spread.

Looking back to appreciate Explorit’s impact over the past 20 years of course begs the question: “What’s next?” Our vision for Explorit’s future builds upon the roots of the past. In the Science Center’s current long-range plan, developed in 2000, we outline the following vision:

“In the coming years, we will continue to build on our distinctive approach of involving, informing and inspiring children and adults through real, personally relevant experiences with science, math and technology and actively focus our resources to address the needs of our diverse community.

Our school-focused outreach programs will continue to target children in grades K-6 but will expand to reach larger numbers of people and more diverse audiences. We will increase our emphasis on reaching children who have limited opportunities for science education and are underperforming in relation to their peers. New partnership with schools and integrated programming to increase skills, involvement and knowledge among teachers and parents, as well as students, will be established.

Our on-site facility in Davis will serve as the hub for dynamic community-focused programs. The on-site space will be expanded and improved to create an engaging multifunctional learning environment for families. Access to and use of the space throughout the day will be increased to provide better service to our audience.

To assure the continuity of quality programs, we will place a high priority on attracting and retaining excellent people who contribute their skills and creativity to make Explorit unique. Businesses, organizations and individuals who share our vision will be engaged in helping us reach children and adults of the region.

Our vision will be carried out with the highest standards of stewardship by Trustees, staff and volunteers and the same active commitment that has characterized the growth of the Science Center to date. Together we will create a strong and dynamic Explorit for the future, increase access to science education resources and opportunities, and empower members of our community to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

Future Plans
Two major initiatives are already underway to achieve goals outlined in our long-range plan. The first, Health in Your World, is creating a mobile science-based health education program for families in underserved communities. Through the involvement of major partner Kaiser Permanente and other collaborators we are beginning piloting of the project at sites this fall (see “On the Road” page 3).

The second major initiative will expand our on-site facilities into an exciting indoor/outdoor learning “campus” utilizing spaces both within and beyond Mace Ranch Park. Watch for more details about our facility expansion plans in the next issues of Science Centered, and begin to imagine what Explorit might have to offer in another 20 years.

Nearly a generation has passed now since Explorit first took root. Through the years it has flourished because of the many loving hands and hearts that have guided its growth. Today, we still believe in the future and continue to plant new seeds of wonder, discovery and appreciation through hands-on science experiences that engage people of all ages. Our vision for the future will carry forward the Science Center’s original spirit and mission while expanding our role and impact in this region and beyond.

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