In 1990, long before the STEM (Science, Technology,
Engineering, Math) acronym was a catchword, John McConnell was a newly retired
physicist who had just relocated to Grand Junction. Retired, but not content to
be idle, he volunteered at the elementary school to share his passion for
science with kids.
He also began to create hands-on experiments, displays and
exhibits for the classroom. Demand for his groundbreaking teaching approach
began to spread across the Western Slope, and he took the show on the road with
help from his wife Audrey.
“We need people who
want to use technology to solve tomorrow’s problems. So we need to get our
children up to speed and excited about taking on that mission.”
– Jenn Moore, Eureka!
McConnell Science Museum executive director
“We’d go out to towns like Dove Creek, Cortez and Maybell.
We’d see up to 800 kids in a week,” John said. “And it was just fantastic.”
In 1998, Wingate Elementary offered him a 1,500-square-foot
classroom for what he called the Sci Tech Exploratorium. Shortly after, the
former Columbus School building was made available. There, over 160 interactive
exhibits—each built by John—teach about every branch of science: from physics
to chemistry, geology to biology and more.
John ran what became known as the John McConnell Math &
Science Center until 2009, when its first paid director was hired. Now, managed
by Executive Director Jenn Moore, the Center hosts 17,000 visitors annually.
But the story doesn’t end there.
In 2018, the Center will occupy a $5.5-million,
13,000-square-foot space in the new engineering building on the Colorado Mesa
University campus. This facility will enable double or even triple the number
of museum visits and summer camp offerings. With the new location also comes a
different name and fresh new logo: Eureka! McConnell Science Museum.
There are always opportunities to help out. According to
Jenn, each year the Center needs dozens of volunteers, interns and teachers.
And, of course, donors.
“We’ve had donors for this capital campaign all the way down
to Cortez and up to Steamboat,” she said. “It’s a very exciting transition time
for us right now.”
Jenn, with her education and background in engineering,
hydrological research and teaching, carries the passion for sharing science
with kids forward.
“Kids get less than one hour of science a week in their classroom.
There’s a huge gap in STEM learning across the U.S., and we’re trying to fill
that void,” she said. “We need people who want to use technology to solve
tomorrow’s problems. So we need to get our children up to speed and excited
about taking on that mission.”