With the recent completion of new design exhibits in the historic Turbine Hall, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) is realizing their vision for creating an ecosystem for science learning in and out of school. The 75-year-old institution is pushing the envelope of education in order to empower and engage visitors through hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) learning opportunities.
“We thought a lot about the museum experience of the future – what people want to see and feel – while also balancing how we could introduce a faster rate of change to that experience,” said Erin Graham, chief operating officer at OMSI. “Evolving and renovating Turbine Hall was really a big experiment. We looked at science museums around the country and didn’t see any examples of organizations doing what we're doing in this space.”
At Innovation Stations created specifically for youth to learn about and understand STEAM skills, design challenges feel meaningful and personally relevant. Young visitors experience different aspects of the design process, helping them understand that problem solving is a skill that can be practiced and strengthened over time.
“We want to impart confidence in our guests. We want them to realize they have the ability to tackle some of the big problems facing our world today,” said Graham. “Climate change, community health, and other issues sound so massive that an individual person might think they have no power to affect them. But in reality, everybody has something they can contribute.”
Arts and design can serve as entry points to STEAM learning and career paths. This is a priority supported by OMSI’s partner Oregon MESA, whose goal is to provide students underrepresented in these fields opportunities to develop their talents and compete successfully in the workforce.
“Many of Oregon’s children, especially those from underserved communities, do not receive the opportunity and preparation to access college and high-paying, technology-focused jobs,” said Tong Zhang, executive director for Oregon MESA. “Our goal is to use invention education to develop students’ confidence in their mathematics, engineering, and technology skills, allowing them to be competitive in this economy.”
Many of Oregon’s students are not completing high school with the mathematics and science literacy required for postsecondary STEAM studies or careers. Hands-on STEAM learning opportunities like the Innovation Stations in Turbine Hall and the afterschool programs Oregon MESA runs throughout the region raise awareness for students about the range of opportunities and pathways open to them, and generate interest to pursue science and technical careers.
“MESA connects the whole community to our students to support them in their learning,” said Zhang. “This type of family outreach and tackling STEAM challenges together aligns well with OMSI’s center for innovation programming.”
Building a community around STEAM learning aligns with Union Pacific, one of OMSI’s key contributors in this endeavor. One of the company’s social impact goals centers around community spaces where residents have access to special places celebrating cultural diversity, artistic expression, the natural environment and the social interactions that enrich lives – places like OMSI.
“We want to work with organizations with whom we can explore big ideas and build powerful momentum within our community,” said Aaron Hunt, senior director of public affairs for Union Pacific Railroad. “We're trying to drive significant and lasting impact and OMSI is the type of organization we know will help us accomplish that goal.”
Organizations like Oregon MESA and Union Pacific understand the importance of showing young adults that what they’re doing directly translates to jobs they could have in the future. Building a community of families and organizations around STEAM learning is a great way to lay out a path to a STEAM-related job.
“We’re building community on a day-to-day basis as we participate in the design challenges at OMSI, while also creating a pipeline of future STEAM professionals. If we can inspire young people to connect with STEAM and plant that seed of interest, then the long-term benefit spreads across industry-type companies in Portland and throughout the entire Pacific Northwest,” said Hunt.
Read more about the exciting transformation taking place at OMSI:
• [Part 1] OMSI Makes STEAM Learning Accessible and Fun: STEAM is Pouring Out of a Place that Used to Spout Steam
• [Part 3] Preparing People for the Future: Why OMSI is Renovating, Updating and Restructuring the Turbine Hall
• [Part 4] The Global Goal: How Compelling Narrative is an Effective Way to Engage People With STEAM